- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

The House yesterday passed a bill that seeks to limit fraudulent use of consular I.D. cards, such as the ones Mexico issues, which the FBI has said are unreliable and a threat to U.S. security.

Part of the broader Foreign Operations authorization bill, which passed 382-42, requires Mexico and any other nation that issues cards to its citizens living in the United States to make sure applicants are bona fide citizens of the country, to record information on every card issued and to make the information on recipients, including name and current address, available to U.S. officials.

The cards — which critics said amount to a back-door amnesty by letting illegal immigrants blend into society — have become the latest hot-button issue in immigration. Hundreds of municipal governments accept the cards as identification for obtaining government services, many police departments accept them as identification when detaining someone, and banks and other businesses have embraced them as a way of winning immigrant customers.

But critics, in urging the House to impose standards for issuing the cards, said they are not secure.

“No standards govern these cards, and there is little information on which localities can rely, in deciding whether to accept a country’s consular card,” said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee.

The FBI testified before a House panel several weeks ago that the Mexican cards are easily forged and the documents accepted by the Mexican consulates as the basis for obtaining a card, such as birth certificates, are also easily forged and readily available on the black market.

Steven McCraw, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, said the cards posed both a criminal and terrorist threat.

The FBI also said the cards are only needed for identification in the United States by illegal immigrants because legal immigrants would have a visa or green card to use.

But Democratic leaders harshly criticized the amendment, saying the “intent is entirely anti-Hispanic.”

“While Republicans claim that their focus is broad in nature, this amendment exposes their true colors and sets a dangerous precedent,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top-ranking Hispanic in Congress. “It is the brainchild of certain Republicans, who obsess over their fear and hatred of the immigrant community late at night on the House floor.”

Democrats also said trying to impose constraints on other nations’ issuance of the cards may violate international conventions.

The provision on the cards passed as an amendment to the bill 226-198 on Tuesday night, with 203 Republicans and 23 Democrats supporting it and 176 Democrats, 21 Republicans and one independent voting against it.

Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican and the amendment’s sponsor, said the bill does not restrict use of the cards or state and local governments’ ability to accept the cards as identification.

The bill also does not specifically apply to Mexico’s card, but Mexico is the most prolific issuer of consular cards in the United States, with more than 1.5 million issued. Other nations have said they either will, or want to, issue cards to their own nationals living in the United States.

To address the problem of fraudulent documents, the bill would require Mexico to verify a person’s identity through voter registration or birth records.

The bill says countries that fail to follow the requirements for consular cards would be punished by the State Department, which would no longer be able to issue visas to immigrants and visitors from those nations.

Mr. Menendez said that it would, in effect, force other nations to stop issuing the cards.

“According to this amendment, if a country fails to comply with these onerous provisions, the U.S. will stop issuing immigrant and non-immigrant visas,” he said. “What country could take that risk?”

But Republicans said security trumps that.

“No card is better than a misleading card,” Mr. Hyde said.

The amendment’s fate is less clear in the Senate, where Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said he wasn’t aware of its passage in the House.

Opposition to the cards continues to build, though.

Several House Republican committee chairmen sent a letter last week urging the Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to “act decisively” to address the concerns with the cards’ security.

And earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced it would reopen regulations issued in May that allowed the cards to be used as valid identification by banks.

Mr. Menendez did win one victory in the bill yesterday. It includes language urging President Bush to complete an immigration accord with Mexico — something Mr. Menendez and others want.

Republicans initially had sought to link the accord to a demand that Mexico open access to its oil development to U.S. companies, but that language was dropped.

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