- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

A congressional panel is investigating the widespread distribution of Mexican identification cards used by legal and illegal immigrants, citing national security concerns and the card’s questionable reliability.

Rep. John Hostettler, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims yesterday said they will also explore whether the Mexican government lobbied local governments to accept the cards and whether they violated national sovereignty.

“Many have questioned why a country that expends so much money and energy to protect its borders would go to so much effort to make it easier for aliens illegally in the U.S. to remain here,” said Mr. Hostettler, Indiana Republican.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican, called the photo-identification cards a “tremendous opportunity for terrorists.”

Supporters say the card, issued by the Mexican government, allows immigrants to open bank accounts and keep money secure.

Critics say the cards amount to a back-door amnesty for illegal aliens.

Marti Dinerstein, president of Immigration Matters, said Mexico’s strategy is to win acceptance for the identification card through a grass-roots lobbying campaign at the local level, which has “borne fruit.”

The matricula consular cards are accepted by more than a dozen states, including New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, California, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Missouri, Nevada and South Carolina. More than 100 banks and financial institutions also recognize the cards for opening checking and savings accounts.

Some illegal aliens consider the card a “badge of protection” to hide lawbreaking activity back home in Mexico, and also use it to obtain driver’s licenses in the United States, Miss Dinerstein said.

“All illegal aliens prize a license because it is the most widely accepted identity document in America,” she said.

The Mexican Embassy said its 47 consulates in the United States are lobbying or contacting local governments urging the card’s acceptance.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat and ranking member, suggested the panel took a racist edge by focusing on immigrants from Mexico. The card may also soon be offered by Nicaragua, Honduras, Poland, Peru and El Salvador.

Mrs. Lee said she was “a little sensitive to the tone of some of the witnesses in this room … for referring to, over and over, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico.”

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and the only panel member who testified in favor of the cards, agreed.

“It seems we want to harp, and harp, and harp on one country,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

“It’s nothing new. If this were the 1920s, we would be talking Italians,” or in another time period, “the menace of the Irish.”

Italian and Irish immigrants came to this country as legal immigrants, said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, noting that the panel is concerned about the cards being used by illegal aliens.

“We don’t mean to be offensive, but about half of the illegal aliens are coming from Mexico, and that’s just a fact,” Mr. Smith said.

Colorado state Sen. John Andrews, a Republican and that state’s Senate president, testified on his state’s recent successful efforts to ban the card’s acceptance.

“Such documents have a negative impact on the rule of law, because they provide a shortcut for individuals who have entered this country in disobedience to our laws, to gain, the identical status and benefits as individuals who took the trouble to obey our laws,” Mr. Andrews said. “That’s wrong.”

The cards cost $29 and can be obtained with a birth certificate, photo ID and proof of residence, such as a phone bill, at any consular office.

Democratic supporters said the cards are secure, tamper-proof and can’t be duplicated, but Mr. Hostettler said the subcommittee has received reports that aliens are being arrested carrying multiple consular cards bearing their photos but different names.

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