- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The General Services Administration has suspended recognition of identification cards issued by the Mexican government to its nationals in this country, pending an investigation by the State Department, GSA and other federal agencies.
The "matricula consular cards," used by Mexican nationals to obtain social services and establish bank accounts and used as legal identification for those who have been detained by police, have been issued to hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals in the United States, including those here illegally.
"The matter of foreign consular identification cards is under discussion both within the State Department and among federal government agencies, including the General Services Administration," the GSA said in a statement made public yesterday.
"While this matter is under deliberation, GSA has suspended the trial acceptance of consular identification cards for admittance to certain federal facilities," the statement said. "GSA will no longer accept consular-issued identification cards as a means of identification, pending further study."
The laminated, digitally coded cards cost $29, are good for five years and can be obtained from any of the 65 Mexican consular offices in this country by presenting a birth certificate, an official ID photo and proof of residency, such as a copy of an electricity, water or telephone bill.
About the size of a driver's license, the cards contain the bearer's photograph, name, address, date and place of birth, signature and the official seal of Mexico. More than 750,000 cards, which do not list the person's immigration status, were issued by Mexico in the past year.
Law-enforcement authorities said more than a million Mexican nationals, including hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, have obtained the identity cards.
Some illegal aliens arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol have been found to have multiple cards each containing the cardholder's picture, but with other names and personal data.
The cards continue to be recognized by some state and local officials, and by a growing number of banks and police agencies nationwide.
Wells Fargo, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase were first in 2000 to recognize the cards as a form of identification to open bank accounts hoping to gain a portion of the financial business of Mexican nationals in this country, who sent home an estimated $9.5 billion last year.
The GSA suspension means the cards will no longer be accepted for identification purposes at federal facilities, including the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, where House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, endorsed a four-month pilot program last month authorizing acceptance of the cards as legitimate forms of identification.
Mrs. Pelosi's office did not return calls for comment.
According to the GSA statement, once the State Department, GSA and other agencies complete their investigation, a formal recommendation will be made to federal law enforcement and security agencies to ensure the integrity of the information contained in the cards and the security of the document itself.
The statement said GSA will then reconsider its policy concerning acceptance of the cards at federal buildings.
The cards have sparked anger among law enforcement authorities, several members of Congress and various immigration experts.
Last week, a dozen House members questioned the propriety of the cards, saying in a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that Mexico had undertaken "a massive lobbying effort" to persuade local authorities to accept the cards for identification purposes.
"While the issuance of national identification cards is nothing new, providing them with the express purpose of evading U.S. law is something entirely different," the lawmakers said. "The active lobbying of local and state governments by consuls of foreign countries is, at least, a breach of international protocol deserving of a serious response by our government."
In addition to Mexico, the lawmakers said El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras also had increased efforts to provide similar identification cards, though officials at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington said yesterday that their country had not issued any consular cards and had no intention of doing so.
The letter to Mr. Powell was signed by Republican Reps. John T. Doolittle and Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, Nathan Deal and Charlie Norwood of Georgia, Todd Akin of Missouri, Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, John Sullivan of Oklahoma, Sam Johnson and Lamar Smith of Texas, and Jo Ann Davis and Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia.
Dan Stein, executive director of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the only people who have a need for the consular-issued identification cards are illegal aliens.
"Legal immigrants can get valid U.S. documents, like state-issued driver's licenses, while visitors can prove their identity with a passport and a valid visa," he said.
Mr. Stein also questioned whether accurate background checks were being made by the Mexican government officials who issue the cards.
"We know that corruption is prevalent in the Mexican government, and yet we are relying on a chain of faceless Mexican bureaucrats to vouch for the identities of millions of people, about whom the only thing we know for certain is that they've broken our immigration laws," he said.

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