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Local law enforcement officials are expected to announce today a countywide policy of accepting Mexican consular ID cards as a valid form of identification.

Such a move would could keep some illegal immigrants from landing in jail, where they most likely would be flagged by federal immigration officials. Police officers in California have the authority to arrest drivers who cannot provide valid identification.

The announcement is to be made at a meeting in Santa Rosa of the North Bay Organizing Project, a group that has lobbied for the policy change since the beginning of the year.

Omar Gallardo, president of the group's leadership council, said that representatives from the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs' Association, the Sheriff's Office and the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco are expected to attend.

However, he would not give details about the policy change.

In early September, Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said that officers in his department would begin honoring the consular ID card, known in Spanish as matricula consular. Weaver said then that the policy was being considered for adoption by the local chiefs' association.

Santa Rosa Chief Tom Schwedhelm said Friday that the association had voted at its last meeting to "add language to one of our policies so that it covers Mexican consular cards."

The policy is currently being circulated for signatures from association members.

The policy change, which is an addition to the association's protocol's for dealing with illegal immigrants, says:

<BL@199,12,11,10>Law enforcement personnel should accept matricular identification (ID) cards issued by the Mexican Consulate as valid ID unless they have probable cause to believe that the ID has been tampered with and/or the person presenting the ID is not in fact the person listed on the ID.

<BL@199,12,11,10>If law enforcement personnel believe the ID is fraudulent, or is being used fraudulently, then they should contact the Mexican Consulate.

In an email, Schwedhelm said Friday that it is "up to each department to give direction to their officers regarding acceptance of the cards."

Gallardo said he expected about 700 people to attend Sunday's meeting of the North Bay Organizing Project, which will be held at 3 p.m. at the Santa Rosa High School auditorium.<CS8.8> The group is made up of local progressive organizations, including The Living Wage Coalition, Graton Day Labor Center, Sonoma State MeChA, Latino Democratic Club, North Bay Labor Council and others.

</CS>At a meeting last February, the group held an "issues assembly" in Santa Rosa City Hall chambers and identified local law enforcement acceptance of matricula cards as one of the group's main objectives.

<CS8.8>Organizers then met for months with local law enforcement leaders asking them to consider such a policy.

</CS>Advocates say that illegal immigrants who are sent to jail because they cannot produce valid ID often face deportation, effectively making local law enforcement officers an arm of the federal immigration service.

Under a federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, the fingerprints of anyone booked into Sonoma County jail are electronically checked against both FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases. The system is effective at flagging possible illegal immigrants.

A team of local law enforcement leaders visited the Mexican Consulate office in San Francisco this summer to take a closer look at security issues.

Local law enforcement officials said that the consular cards are far more secure than they were when they were first issued in the 1990s.