- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The Montgomery County Council yesterday unanimously voted to allow immigrants to use identification cards issued by foreign consulates to get social services from county departments.

The consular cards can be used by immigrants to enroll their children in schools and open bank accounts.

The federal government has criticized the cards because they could be interpreted as de facto amnesty for illegal aliens. The cards, moreover, can easily be counterfeited.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan praised the council’s vote. He said immigrants have struggled to participate in the economy and in social networking because they didn’t have any type of identification.

“People living in this country have a right to certain basic amenities,” Mr. Duncan said in a written statement released late yesterday. “I know that working together with the council, we can make a difference in the lives of those residents who are trying to make a new life here in Montgomery County.”

Council member Tom Perez, Silver Spring Democrat, sponsored the bill calling for the county to accept the identification cards.

Mr. Duncan said he has written letters to officials in Latin America, urging them to join Mexico and Guatemala in issuing such cards. Brazil, Nicaragua and Haiti have shown interest, as has Poland.

The digitally coded cards, which show the holder’s picture, address and birth date, cost $29 and are good for five years. They can be obtained from any of the 65 Mexican consular offices in the United States. Mexican nationals can get the cards by showing a Mexican birth certificate, an official ID photo and proof of residency, such as a copy of a utility bill.

The Washington Times reported last month that some 1.2 million cards have been issued by Mexican consulates in the United States.

Some in the federal government say legal immigrants receive U.S. government-issued documents, making the consular cards useful only to those who are here illegally. The Census Bureau estimates that between 8 million and 9 million illegal immigrants are in the United States.

For fear of the IDs being fraudulently issued, the General Services Administration in January decided to prevent persons from using the cards to enter federal facilities. The FBI has described the cards as an unreliable form of identification.

Earlier this month, officials in Virginia said they would not accept the consular cards as proof of legal residence when issuing driver’s licenses.

Dan Stein, executive director of the D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said it is easy for the cards to be obtained illegally. And he said the ability of illegal immigrants to receive social services is “a heck of a slap in the face to the law-abiding taxpayers in the community.”

“The documents don’t prove the person is who they say they are,” he said. “They promote illegal immigration.”

Council members have said they are convinced the card-issuing system is secure. Several council members, including Mr. Perez, did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.

The cards are accepted by more than 800 police departments and for driver’s licenses in 13 states, according to the Mexican Embassy in the District. More than 400 cities now consider the cards proper identification, according to published reports.

However, the consular card is not listed as an acceptable official document for opening an account at any major bank in Mexico.

Mr. Stein said state and local governments’ acceptance of the cards could make it more difficult for the United States to prevent terrorism.

He said the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks had falsely obtained U.S. Social Security cards and state-issued driver’s licenses, which they used to board the airplanes they hijacked.

The bill passed by the council yesterday could open the door for people who have false documents, Mr. Stein said.

The consular cards have been issued to Mexican nationals since 1870 to identify the country’s citizens in need of consular assistance. The cards do not list the person’s immigration status.

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