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“As federal officers, we should all be disgusted; however, we should not be surprised,” he said.

Chief Veal, whose San Diego sector includes more than 7,000 square miles along 66 miles of international boundary with Mexico, said in his memo that the future of Border Patrol operations was dependent on the elimination of the perception that agents were conducting neighborhood sweeps.

The memo prohibited agents from initiating arrests in cities, residential areas, near workplaces and locations where day laborers gathered, and from making arrests while driving to their assignments.

It also described the agents’ main priority as the “maximum containment” of illegal immigration at the border and preventing terrorists from entering the country.

It said the enforcement of immigration laws away from the border was now the responsibility of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Chief Veal’s memo followed the Aug. 2 arrest by Border Patrol agents of five members of a Mexican family outside the Mexican Consulate near downtown San Diego, all of whom were returned to Mexico. The five were en route to the consulate to apply for matricula consular cards, an identification card issued by the Mexican government to its citizens living in this country.

Deputy Consul General Javier Diaz met with Chief Veal to protest the arrests, while Mexican Consul General Rodulfo Figueroa issued a statement saying he was astonished by the arrests because of their proximity to his office.

There has been widespread concern about the use of matricula cards, which the FBI has described as an unreliable form of identification.

FBI officials recently told a Senate committee the cards posed a criminal and terrorist threat, and were easy to obtain through fraud and a lack of adequate security measures by the Mexican government.

Some 1.2 million digitally coded matricula cards, which cost $29, have been issued by Mexican consulates in the United States and are accepted by hundreds of localities, local agencies and banks across the nation.

Guatemala is planning to issue similar cards to its nationals in the United States, while Brazil, Poland, Nicaragua and Haiti have shown interest in such cards.

The Mexican government lobbied the U.S. banking industry to accept the cards, hoping to cash in on some of the $11 billion believed by federal authorities to be sent home each year by Mexican nationals in this country unable to open bank accounts because of a lack of proper identification.

However, no major bank in Mexico lists the matricula card among the official documents they accept to open an account.

Federal authorities believe the cards are useful only for illegal aliens, since legal immigrants have usable, U.S. government-issued documents.