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Arkansas Officials Probe Hispanic Group’s Membership Cards, I.D. Confusion

A nonprofit group set up three years ago to serve the Hispanic community issues membership cards that some say look too much like official identification that could exploit or wrongly benefit illegal immigrants.

Angelo Zambrano and his brother Paul helped found the Latin Community Organization in 2004 to serve Hispanics in the local community. The group offers English, civics, General Educational Development classes, computer and money-management training along with translation and housing assistance.

The group has about 3,000 members. Each has the option of paying $15 for the membership card. Angelo Zambrano estimates the nonprofit has made at least $30,000 selling the cards.

Some Arkansas police departments, banks and businesses now accept the group’s membership card as a form of valid identification. The Zambranos said the cards are not meant to confuse authorities or Hispanics who choose to purchase one.

In Malvern, students use the card to register for classes at Ouachita Technical College, and some grocery stores and banks use the card to help members cash checks and open bank accounts.

Gabe Holmstrom, a spokesman for the Arkansas attorney general’s office, says officials are investigating the Malvern-based organization and its cards. Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey said some city officials worried that the LCO cards too closely resemble an Arkansas driver’s license. Philip McLarty, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hope, said the cards could appear official to immigrants who do not speak English and are not familiar with the U.S. identification system.

The cards read Arkansas across the top, and bear the cardholder’s photo, name and address and list the person’s gender, height and eye color. The back of the card features the insignia of local police departments and endorsements by local banks.

Malvern interim Police Chief William Ross said mistaking the Latin Community Organization’s ID with a valid driver’s license is impossible.

“I don’t think you could confuse a teen-age store clerk,” he said.

Angelo Zambrano said new members are never promised that the cards guarantee them any type of services and businesses make their own decisions on accepting the cards as legitimate ID. He said the group also does not verify cardholders’ legal status.

“I don’t know if they [purchasers of the card] are legal or illegal,” he said. “It’s not something we ask. We don’t work for the Department of Homeland Security,”

Charles Cervantes, state director of the Arkansas League of United Latin American citizens, said, “Some (illegal immigrants) think it’s an official, government-sponsored card. It’s misleading a lot of them.”

Angelo Zambrano said any likeness to the state’s driver’s license is coincidental. The card has “Latin Community Organization” prominently on the front. On the back, the cards read: “This is not a government ID. It is granted for membership purposes only”

–Associated Press

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