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Republicans tell Ridge Mexican ID card a threat to security

BY MICHELLE MITTELSTADT
The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The chairmen of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees voiced "increasing concern" Thursday about rising U.S. acceptance of a Mexican consular ID card that is helpful mainly to illegal immigrants who lack legitimate U.S. identification.

Citing the FBI's view that the matricula consular is vulnerable to fraud and open to misuse by terrorists and criminals, the lawmakers asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to consider those concerns as the federal government weighs its policy toward the document. "Despite the widespread acceptance of these cards & it appears that they are neither reliable nor secure," the Republicans said in a letter to Ridge, calling the documents "a threat to homeland security."

The Department of Homeland Security recently was put in charge of the interagency task force debating whether to accept foreign consular ID cards. The task force, which has been meeting for months, as yet has been unable to smooth policy differences between the State, Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security departments. "The interagency task force still continues to work to determine if this is going to be a viable, acceptable document," Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Thursday.

He declined comment on the letter, signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; Homeland Security Chairman Chris Cox, R-Calif.; Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., who chairs the homeland security appropriations subcommittee; and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee.

The lawmakers' letter and the FBI opposition, stated at a recent House immigration subcommittee hearing, mark two rare setbacks to Mexico's campaign for wider acceptance of the matricula.

Thirteen states, more than 80 cities and 900 police departments now accept the matricula.

Advocates say the cards help immigrants access basic functions of daily life such as obtaining driver's licenses and opening bank accounts. They also note that the card serves a law enforcement purpose, allowing police to identify people who otherwise might travel without identification.

Critics, however, say the card abets illegal immigration and undermines enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.

More than 1.4 million cards have been issued since 2002 and Mexican government officials insist the ID is secure and fraud-resistant. Officials say the card allows them to keep track of the 9 million Mexicans who live here, about half of them illegally.

The FBI last month became the first federal agency to publicly state a position on the matricula, expressing concern that the card is not secure in part because the Mexican government does not have a centralized database of applicants. Without such a database, there is no way of assuring that multiple cards aren't issued to the same person, said Steve McCraw, assistant director of the FBI's Office of Intelligence.

Mexican officials say they are working to establish a database and are taking other steps to make the card more secure. The Mexican Embassy did not return a call Thursday regarding the lawmakers' views.

In the letter, the four House members expressed particular misgivings about the Treasury Department's decision to permit financial institutions to use foreign consular cards as proof of identification.

The Treasury decision "appears to subvert" sections in the USA Patriot Act designed "to make it more difficult for potential terrorists to open bank accounts," they wrote, asking the Department of Homeland Security to take a position on the matter.

The Treasury Department had not seen the letter. But spokesman Taylor Griffin said, "The administration implements all laws with the intent of Congress fully in mind."

The Patriot Act regulations "were designed to allow financial institutions enough flexibility to implement the rules effectively while holding those institutions responsible for the success of their customer identification program," he said.

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2003, The Dallas Morning News.
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