- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Capitol Hill lawmakers are looking to overturn an “insane” decision by the Treasury Department, which allows banks to accept Mexican identification cards that federal law enforcement officials call a threat to national security.

The Treasury Department made its long-awaited decision on “matricula consular” cards last Thursday, just as the federal government was closing and lawmakers left town in anticipation of Hurricane Isabel.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican and author of legislation that would forbid the federal government from recognizing the foreign-issued cards, called the timing and the decision “just insane.”

“It has the potential for causing great harm to this nation in several ways. It’s not just the matricula, there are 20 other nations in the process of developing similar documents. If we didn’t learn anything from September 11 then we never will,” Mr. Gallegly said.

Lawmakers say the majority of cards are being issued to illegal aliens.

“The Treasury Department is making it easier for illegal aliens, foreign criminals and prospective terrorists to obtain a false ID and remain in the U.S. where they are a danger to Americans,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and a leading critic of the card, called the decision “enormously problematic” and said Congress could repeal the decision through law or force more red tape onto banks.

“Now banks are being told by the federal government they can aid and abet people who are here illegally,” Mr. Tancredo said.

The department proposed the regulation May 9 as part of the implementation of Section 326 of the Patriot Act.

Treasury spokesman Taylor Griffin said the department did not want to regulate what type of identification can and cannot be accepted by financial institutions. In turn, banks must take responsibility for ensuring customer identification is valid or face fines.

“That way, financial institutions will have the flexibility they require,” Mr. Griffin said.

Key lawmakers oppose acceptance of the cards and say their legislative intent is being subverted. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the administration in a May 23 letter the intent of Congress was to “raise the bar on the difficulty with which terrorists can move money through the U.S. banking system.”

“As written, this regulation appears instead to lower the bar,” said Mr. Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican. “If the Treasury Department upholds their original proposal Congress will take “immediate legislation to counteract the potential for adverse effects on federal law enforcement’s ability to combat terrorism.”

Asked for reaction to last Thursday’s announcement, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s spokesman said the chairman’s concerns were articulated in the May letter.

During a June 26 hearing, officials from the Homeland Security Department and FBI told a House panel the cards can easily be obtained by fraudulent means.

“The Department of Justice and the FBI have concluded that the matricula consular is not a reliable form of identification, due to the nonexistence of any means of verifying the true identity of the card holder,” said Steven McCraw, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently said banks should accept the cards “at their peril.”

A spokesman for Homeland Security said this week they have not communicated their concerns to the Treasury Department.

“An interagency task force continues to look at all these issues and that will determine the final administration policy position on these positions,” said Brian Roehrkasse.

Mr. Griffin said if the task force concludes the matricula cards are not acceptable, they will pass that recommendation onto financial institutions but are still not likely to forbid its acceptance through a government regulation.

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