- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

The Matricula Consular card, issued by the Mexican government to Mexicans living in the United States, “is not a reliable form of identification” and poses a criminal and terrorist threat, the FBI has concluded.

“Clearly, this is a threat to vulnerability,” Steven McCraw, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, told a House immigration panel yesterday.

Mr. McCraw said the identification cards are easy to obtain through fraud, and lack adequate security measures to prevent easy forgery. He cited examples of alien smugglers being arrested with up to seven different cards and an Iranian national who was arrested with a Matricula Consular card in his name.

Those worries are shared by the Department of Homeland Security, said C. Stewart Verdery, an assistant secretary for the border and transportation directorate.

“We’re concerned at the Department of Homeland Security about the acceptance and use of these cards,” he told the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

The hearing highlighted what some lawmakers previously said is an ongoing rift in the administration between the Justice and Homeland Security departments and the State Department.

The State Department did not defend the use of the cards yesterday, but Roberta S. Jacobson, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the department is worried about reciprocity. She said the department wants to preserve the rights of the United States to conduct its affairs in other nations, and fears retaliation if Washington opposes Mexico issuing the cards. She also said under international conventions other nations have the right to issue cards, though that does not mean the federal government must accept them or endorse their use.

Some 1.2 million cards have been issued by Mexican consulates here in the United States, and are accepted by hundreds of localities and local agencies across the nation, including most recently Montgomery County in Maryland, and Indianapolis. Guatemala is planning to issue cards to its nationals in the United States, while Brazil, Poland, Nicaragua and Haiti have all showed an interest in issuing cards.

The Mexican government has argued that it only issues the cards after someone applies in person at their local consular office in the United States, and applicants must produce acceptable identification.

But the FBI has determined that those documents, particularly Mexican birth certificates, are “easy to forge” and are a hot item in the fraudulent-document trade. Also, in some instances, individuals have been issued a card without identification if they fill out a form and convince the issuing official they are who they say they are.

Opponents of the cards’ use say they have turned into a back-door amnesty that allows illegal aliens to blend into society by letting them obtain bank accounts and some state and local services.

“The only people who need these cards are illegal immigrants, and sometimes criminals or terrorists,” said Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican.

None of the witnesses could dispute that claim, and Ms. Jacobson said the State Department has not studied the issue.

Mr. Verdery of the Homeland Security Department said those who are in the country legally will have either a border-crossing card, a passport and visa, or a green card signifying their legal residence in the country.

Democrats on the committee said many police and local officials have supported the use of the cards because they allow for identification when someone is stopped.

“It seems there’s a great fuss being made about cards that, in essence, just help police and others do their jobs,” said Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat. The cards’ backers also said the cards cut down on crime by allowing holders to have bank accounts, thus reducing a holder’s need to carry around cash and be a target for criminals.

Earlier this year, the federal government stopped accepting the cards as identification for entering federal buildings and promised to write a policy to set out guidelines for accepting the card. Several Republicans yesterday said they were disappointed those guidelines have not been produced, and though Ms. Jacobson said they are working on them, she also said there is no target date for completing them.

In addition, the Treasury Department, which was not represented at yesterday’s hearing, is writing new regulations on whether banks should accept the cards as identification for opening accounts and obtaining a line of credit.

Subcommittee Chairman John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, said he thinks that if states and localities had known about the cards and the way they are used, they probably wouldn’t have accepted them based on their unreliability.

“The foreign government’s only interest is the welfare of the alien, not the well-being of the American people,” Mr. Hostettler said.

But Elizabeth Davison, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, who prompted County Executive Doug Duncan to accept the cards, said she still has not changed her mind about the cards.

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