- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Foreign nationals illegally in the United States are using identification cards issued by the governments of Mexico and Guatemala to avoid apprehension and deportation, a government report said.

According to the Government Accountability Office, weaknesses in U.S. government policy regarding the issuance of the cards, also known as matricular consular cards, failed to prevent their delivery to and use by illegal aliens.

The report, released this week, said the cards provide “a perfect way to establish new identities and ensure that aliens’ names won’t come up on terrorist watch lists or criminal databases.” Without consistent guidance by the federal government on the advisability of accepting the cards, the report said, the risk was higher that they would be used to establish false identities.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the use of millions of consular identification cards by illegal aliens presents a national security threat and undermines U.S. immigration laws.

“Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly clear Congress will need to provide strong and clear direction to regulate these cards, as well as establishing civil penalties for federal officials who flaunt enforcement of the law,” said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who requested the GAO report.

The GAO said the mere possession of a card — obtained from foreign consulate offices in the United States — did not certify legal residence, but only that cardholders “may be either legal or undocumented aliens.” It said millions of consular cards are being accepted by U.S. government agencies, despite counterfeiting and security concerns.

The FBI has said the consular cards pose criminal and terrorist threats, are easy to obtain through fraud and inadequate security measures, are not reliable forms of identification, can facilitate crimes such as money laundering and alien smuggling, and can help terrorists move around the United States with ease.

The GAO said Mexico issued 2.2 million of the cards in 2002 and 2003, while Guatemala issued about 89,000. In addition, it said, Argentina has begun issuing the identification cards to its citizens in the United States, and other nations are considering similar programs.

The GAO says Mexico’s issuance policy “still relies on visual, rather than computer-based, verification … including birth certificates the FBI says may be fraudulently obtained.” The GAO also said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have warned that “incorporating technical security features into identification documents such as counselor-identity document cards does not guarantee their authenticity.”

The report recommended that the Homeland Security Council direct its task force to develop and implement consistent guidance reconciling potential conflicts among federal agencies and complete efforts to develop policy to enable state and local governments, financial institutions and others “to assess the authenticity” of the consular cards.

The laminated cards cost about $25, are good for five years, and can be obtained from a foreign consular office with a birth certificate and a photo identification issued in either the applicant’s home country or the United States. They have been used to obtain social services, establish bank accounts, open utility accounts and obtain building permits.

They also have been used as legal identification for those who have been detained by state, local and federal law-enforcement authorities.

Many U.S. banks and financial institutions support the identity cards because they can be used to open bank accounts. Mexican nationals in the United States send about $11 billion back to their country each year and had been unable to obtain state-issued identification cards to allow them to establish bank accounts in this country.

The cards contain the bearer’s photograph, name, address in the United States, birthday, birthplace, signature and a hologram of the country’s official seal. They do not list the person’s immigration status.

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