- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Striking a blow against the flouting of U.S. immigration law, the House last week voted in favor of an amendment that would impose common sense standards on the use of Mexico’s controversial matricula consular card in the United States. By a 226-198 vote, the House approved an amendment, offered by Rep. John Hostettler to the Foreign Relations authorization bill, which establishes requirements that foreign governments must meet prior to issuing the cards in the United States, and authorizes the State Department — as part of its authority to oversee the operations of foreign consulates here — to regulate their issuance.

The matricula consular cards are issued by Mexican consulates to persons in this country who claim Mexican citizenship, regardless of whether they are in the United States illegally. By doing so, Mexico deliberately works to undermine America’s ability to enforce its immigration laws. The cards, which cost $29, are accepted as identification by hundreds of police departments, law-enforcement agencies and local governments. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which formed a task force to study the issue shortly after September 11, passed a resolution last month opposing foreign governments’ use of the matricula consular card and other such forms of identification that are used to obtain U.S. driver’s licenses, citing factors such as a lack of secure electronic networks to verify an applicant’s identity.

In testimony last month before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Steve McCraw, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, said the bureau and the Justice Department have concluded that the cards are not a reliable means of identification. Among other things, he noted, the government of Mexico has no centralized database to coordinate the issuance of consular identification cards, making it possible for multiple cards to be issued with the same address, the same name and same photograph. Also, Mexico issues the card to anyone who can produce a Mexican birth certificate (already part of a flourishing trade in forged documents) and one other form of identity, including documents of “low reliability.” Despite some new security features, the card remains easy for criminals to counterfeit, Mr. McCraw said.

Perhaps most disturbing is the potential bonanza for terrorists afforded by the card. “Federal officials have discovered individuals from many different countries in possession of the matricula consular card,” Mr. McCraw added. “The ability of foreign nationals to use the matricula consular to create a well-documented, but fictitious, identity in the United States provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists that are disseminated to local police officers. It also allows them to board planes without revealing their true identity.”

Despite the compelling arguments against the use of the matricula consular, House committee and floor debate took on an ugly tone. Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Robert Menendez suggested that Republican support for limiting use of the card was motivated by bigotry. Such assertions are false and unworthy of Congress. We hope that, when the Senate takes up this issue, the defenders of the card attempt to answer serious questions about whether its use could endanger national security, instead of impugning the motives of those who raise serious questions about using the matricula consular card.

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