- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Guatemala, Honduras, Poland, Peru and El Salvador, aware of Mexico's success in getting identification cards to its citizens in the United States, including those here illegally, have begun or are considering issuing cards of their own, federal officials said yesterday.
Known as "matricula consular cards," the digitally-coded documents are being used by Mexican nationals in the United States as legal forms of identification, giving the holders the ability to apply for social services, open bank accounts, cash checks, sign lease and rental agreements, and board airplanes.
The laminated cards, which do not list the holder's immigration status, also are being used as a legal form of identification by those stopped or questioned by police. Nearly a million of the cards were issued last year by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals now in this country.
In the wake of the Mexican program, Guatemala began issuing similar identity cards last year known as the "Tarjeta de Identificacion Consular." It plans eventually to make them available to the estimated 327,000 Guatemalans living in the United States.
Honduras, Poland and Peru have the matter under serious consideration. El Salvador has begun issuing a secure, in-country identification card known as the Documento Unico de Identidad (DUI), but has not said whether it will expand the program.
While Mexican President Vicente Fox has been unsuccessful after the September 11 attacks on America in getting new amnesty agreements, he has overseen an active lobbying campaign by the Mexican government to persuade U.S. mayors, police chiefs and bank presidents to accept the cards as legal identification.
Hundreds of state and local governments, along with 798 police agencies and 74 banks, now accept the cards for identification purposes despite warnings by federal law-enforcement authorities of potential widespread fraud involving the cards.
The Mexican lobbying effort first targeted U.S. banks that hope to cash in on some of the $9.5 billion sent home last year by the Mexican nationals in this country unable to open bank accounts because of a lack of proper identification.
Wells Fargo Bank was the first to accept the card, approving its use in 2001. At the time, the bank said the decision was made with the support of the Bush administration and the Treasury Department.
Ironically, no major bank in Mexico lists the "matricula consular card" among the official identification documents they accept to open an account, and the cards are recognized for identification purpose in only 10 of Mexico's 32 states and districts.
In a report released yesterday, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) said the Mexican government undertook an aggressive grass-roots lobbying campaign to win acceptance of the cards, especially in areas where Mexican illegal aliens are concentrated.
The report, by Marti Dinerstein, said the objective was to achieve quasi-legal status for the 3 million to 5 million Mexican illegal aliens in the United States without waiting for now-stalled amnesty legislation.
According to the report, the card is useful only for illegal aliens, since legal immigrants, by definition, have U.S. government-issued documents. The report also said Mexico cannot guarantee the security of the cards since the government does not authenticate the documents used to obtain them against computerized data files in Mexico.
The report also said safeguards are not in place to prevent the issuance of multiple cards to the same person, noting that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service already has reported finding several cards in different names issued to the same person.
"Mexico's marketing of its consular cards is a direct challenge to U.S. sovereignty," Miss Dinerstein said at a press conference. "By aggressively lobbying state and local governments to accept them, Mexico is changing America's de facto immigration policy in lieu of congressional action.
"And it has been doing so while the U.S. government watched or even gave its consent," she said, adding that acceptance of the cards sets a precedent that makes it almost impossible to reject similar cards from other countries.
The cards cost $29, are valid for five years and can be obtained from any of the 47 Mexican consular offices in this country with a birth certificate, official ID photo and proof of U.S. residence.
About the size of a driver's license, they contain the bearer's photo, name, address, date and place of birth, signature and the official seal of Mexico.
Last week, the General Services Administration suspended recognition of the cards at federal facilities pending an investigation. The GSA said once the probe is completed, a recommendation would be made to federal law enforcement and security agencies to ensure the cards' integrity and security.

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