- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Bush administration officials yesterday angered lawmakers by refusing to take a position on illegal aliens obtaining U.S. driver’s licenses and avoiding questions about its decision to recognize Mexican identification cards.

Officials testifying before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security said they are reviewing what documentation is secure and reliable, but evaded direct questions on the matricula consular cards now accepted by California and New Mexico to obtain driver’s licenses.

Critics say the cards issued by the Mexican Embassy are easily falsified and used by illegal aliens to establish residency.

Stewart Verdery, Homeland Security assistant secretary, was asked directly whether states should issue identification cards to people who are in the United States illegally.

“I am not aware that the department or administration has taken a position on that,” Mr. Verdery said.

A frustrated Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, responded: “It seems to me the administration had better get a policy, pretty quick.”

Republican lawmakers also questioned officials about a recent Treasury Department decision allowing the matricula cards to be accepted as legal identification by financial institutions.

Officials, including Mr. Verdery, testified on Capitol Hill earlier this year that the FBI and Homeland Security Department believed the cards are not secure and pose a threat to homeland security.

The administration’s decision to accept the cards was announced just as lawmakers were leaving town in advance of Hurricane Isabel and caused an “uproar in Congress,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

Mr. Verdery told the panel yesterday the card can be “reliable in some cases,” which committee Chairman Christopher Cox, California Republican, called a conflicting statement and a “problem.”

“I can’t imagine anything more unclear than for Homeland Security to say it may be good sometimes,” Mr. Cox said.

Mr. Verdery later clarified that the Homeland Security Department originally “weighed in and expressed concerns about the regulation in general,” but that the “administration made a decision the Treasury regulation would go forward.”

John Pistole, FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, said parts of the regulation “are not as secure as we might like” and that his agency also “expressed concerns.”

The Treasury Department proposed the regulation allowing the matricula card be accepted by financial institutions as part of the implementation of Section 326 of the Patriot Act. The law was intended to make it easier to go after terrorist money operations.

Mr. Cox called it “remarkable” that the administration instead made it easier to open bank accounts under fraudulent means. Mr. Verdery said the administrative regulations are final, but Mr. Cox said “those final regulations certainly aren’t final in the Capitol, and we’ll be aggressively” working to overturn them through legislation.

Mr. Shays said there is a lot of “junk” coming out of a department that is supposed to be focused on homeland security.

“You are supposed to be the one organization we turn to,” he said.

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