- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Government's first responsibility be it at the local, state or federal level is the protection of its citizens and others who have a legal right to be here. We are being extremely irresponsible some would argue criminally negligent if we accept foreign government-issued identification cards other than passports as legitimate documents, because we have no control over the validity and credibility of their verification process.

We are equally irresponsible and negligent to continue to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants or those who can't prove their legitimacy to be here.

The only people who need foreign-issued identification cards known as matricula consulars are those illegally in the United States: criminals and terrorists.

There is no requirement that the person who receives the card is in the United States legally. In fact, it is almost exclusively illegal immigrants who obtain the cards. We have no control over the veracity of the screening process or the document's integrity. Counterfeit matricula consulars are being sold on California streets.

Legal immigrants have other identification: passports, green cards, Social Security cards and visas.

The Mexican government has been issuing matricula consulars to its citizens for more than 100 years. But the cards only became popular recently when banks began accepting them as legitimate identification to open accounts. Then local governments jumped on the bandwagon and began accepting them as legitimate identification for law enforcement purposes.

This is a very dangerous precedent.

The majority of the terrorists who hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners and slammed them callously into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 innocent people, knew how important an identification card is in our society.

Sixteen of the September 11, 2001, hijackers had driver's licenses or state non-driver's identification cards, which they were able to use when renting housing, opening bank accounts and boarding planes. In the aftermath, many states tightened their rules on issuing licenses and identification cards and resisted attempts to further loosen the rules.

For example, in my home state of California, the governor has twice vetoed legislation to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Virginia, which was among the states to issue a driver's license to some of the hijackers, recently passed legislation to block illegal immigrants from getting them.

But not everyone has gotten on board. Maryland is among the states considering allowing illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, and the California Legislature is considering an even worse bill than was vetoed twice before.

Terrorists will exploit every loophole they're given. I'm confident they're watching this trend closely.

And it's getting worse. The Los Angeles City Council, after voting earlier this month to make permanent its acceptance of Mexican consular cards, is studying the acceptance of consular cards from other countries.

Where does it stop? Do we also accept identification issued by Iraq, North Korea, China and Libya?

Last year, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which greatly tightens the integrity of visas and other entry documents. It was modeled after my bill, the Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001.

Then, in response to the growing acceptance of the matricula consular, I authored and introduced the Identification Integrity Act of 2003 earlier this year. With the exception of passports which are issued under strict guidelines provided by the U.S. it would forbid the federal government from recognizing foreign-issued IDs.

But the federal government cannot do it alone. States are equal partners in protecting our citizens and legal visitors from terrorist threats. They must be responsible partners.

It's been less than two years since we were attacked on our soil. We know terrorists are planning more attacks. If we are to be secure in our homeland, we must not create loopholes that terrorists and criminals can exploit. The price is just too high.

Elton Gallegly, California Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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