Federal government warnings that identification cards issued by Mexican officials are unreliable and a threat to national security have not swayed supporters nationwide, including municipalities, police departments and banks, who say they will continue to recognize them as legal credentials.
“People need a way to prove who they are,” said Elizabeth Davison, director of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs in Maryland.
The Matricula Consular cards are now accepted by more than 400 cities and 900 police departments. Major banks, such as Bank of America, CitiBank, and Wells Fargo, also allow use of the cards to open accounts or conduct financial transactions.
“I don’t think Montgomery County is going to change their stand on accepting the cards and encouraging banks to accept it,” said Sue Tucker, county spokeswoman. “Montgomery County still feels very strongly this is a good form of ID.”
Mexican birth certificates are required to obtain the $29 cards, but an FBI official said such certificates are “easy to forge” and a “major item on the product list of fraudulent document trade currently flourishing across the country and around the world.”
“The Department of Justice and the FBI have concluded that the Matricula Consular is not a reliable form of identification due to the non-existence of any means of verifying the true identity of the card holder,” Steven McCraw, assistant director of the FBI’s office of intelligence, said last week in testimony before the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and border security.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, yesterday asked Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to denounce publicly the recognition of the ID cards.
“Given the lack of coherent policy in this issue and the ongoing security threat acceptance of these cards poses, your leadership on this matter is urgently needed,” Mr. Tancredo wrote in a letter to Mr. Ridge.
Opponents of the cards say they essentially give illegal immigrants the ability to live in the United States as legal aliens, undermine efforts to control immigration and threaten security.
Supporters say the IDs protect illegal immigrants by allowing them to report crimes to police without being deported.
Asked if the congressional testimony would prompt any reconsideration of accepting the cards, a spokeswoman for Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson said “No, it wouldn’t.”
The population of Mexicans in Indianapolis has grown to more than 50,000, activists say. Indianapolis voted last week with East Chicago, Ind., and Fort Wayne, Ind., to recognize the cards as valid forms of identification.
“We understand there are many opinions about the card, but we feel it is safe and secure, and we’ve received many assurances from the Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis that they are,” said Mr. Peterson’s spokeswoman, Jo Lynn Garing.
“We believe it will help public safety personnel in assisting victims of crime and at the scenes of accidents or fires,” she said.
The opinion of Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee was also requested, and he supports the cards, she said.
Miss Davison attended the hearing but said she was not persuaded the county should reject the cards, which she said could benefit more than 10,000 residents.
“I suppose it’s possible the cards could be forged, but people also forge Social Security cards and passports. I don’t see where there is a concern for this card over any other,” she said.
Financial institutions also remain committed to recognizing the cards. Asked about the congressional testimony, Citibank issued a statement that “experts from different areas of our organization examined the cards and the issuing process, and we are comfortable that the card is a reliable means of identification.”
“We also require secondary forms of ID to make sure we know our customers. As a normal course of business, we will continue to monitor any additional information that comes to light concerning the reliability of the cards for identification purposes,” the statement said.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the cards meet all of their requirements as a valid and primary form of identification and they plan to continue to accept them for new account openings.
“Wells Fargo has not experienced any issues with the new accounts that have been established,” said spokeswoman Miriam Galicia Duarte. “Our experience with the accounts opened has been no different than that for accounts opened with U.S. driver’s licenses or state identification,” she said.
C. Stewart Verdery, Homeland Security assistant secretary, said officials believe multiple cards can be obtained under numerous names, “an occurrence that poses a significant security issue and impacts their reliability as valid forms of identification.”
At least one person from the Middle East has been arrested with the Mexican identification card, which “provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists,” Mr. McCraw said.
“It allows them to board planes without revealing their true identity,” Mr. McCraw said.