Article Abstract

FBI Criticizes Mexican Consular I.D. Cards

The cards, held by more than a million immigrants in Califoria and elswhere, are prone to fraudulent use, the agency tells Congress.

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
[Emphasis added by]

7:34 PM PDT, June 26, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Mexican identification cards that have eased access to financial and local government services for more than 1 million immigrants in the United States are prone to fraud and misuse by criminals and possibly terrorists, the FBI told a congressional panel Thursday.

"The Department of Justice and the FBI have concluded that the matricula consular is not a reliable form of identification," said Steven McCraw, assistant director of the FBI's intelligence office. "There are major criminal threats posed by the cards and (a) potential terrorist threat."

Resembling a driver's license and displaying the bearer's address in the United States, the cards are issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican citizens, whether or not they are legally in this country.

The cards are accepted as identification by more than 70 U.S. banks, 800 police departments and numerous local governments.

McCraw's testimony brought into the open a debate within the Bush administration. Several agencies are struggling to craft a government-wide policy on consular IDs, even as a half-dozen other countries are considering issuing similar cards for their citizens in the United States .

Currently, consular IDs are not valid for admittance to federal buildings, but the Transportation Security Administration accepts them for air travelers.

Within the administration, the State and Treasury departments have taken a tolerant view, while the FBI is raising strong concerns, and Homeland Security has staked out a middle ground.

Many local law-enforcement agencies have embraced the cards, saying acceptance has made it easier to police immigrant communities and has made low-income workers less vulnerable to crime by allowing them to open bank accounts instead of keeping their savings in cash.

Proponents of reducing immigration have criticized the matriculas as providing an incentive for illegal migration. "The fact that so many localities have made the decision to accept consular cards for domestic identification purposes, without guidance from the federal government, is a source of concern," said Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee. "No background checks are run. No investigation is undertaken to assess the possible risk that an alien poses to the American people."

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