Posted on July 19, 2004

Panel Favors Blocking Banks From Taking Mexican Ids

Michelle MittelStadt, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 16

WASHINGTON — Banks would no longer be able to accept a Mexican identification card popular with illegal immigrants under a measure approved Thursday by a House subcommittee.

The House appropriations subcommittee that funds the Treasury Department voted 9-7, along party lines, to block a Treasury rule that permits banks to accept the matricula consular as a valid ID document.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said use of a foreign ID card viewed as insecure by the FBI and Homeland Security Department presents a national security threat.

“Every federal law enforcement agency that I’m aware of has identified the matricula as a serious security problem because there is no way to verify the actual identity of the person holding it,” Mr. Culberson said.

The Mexican government insists the card is secure, and the document has been embraced by banks eager to tap into underserved Hispanic markets.

By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have used the matricula to open bank accounts and access other financial services since the Treasury Department gave the industry the green light in 2002.

The Treasury Department voiced concern about Mr. Culberson’s proposal, and immigrant advocacy groups and bank trade groups vowed to mount a vigorous lobbying effort to derail the measure in full committee next week.

Passage of the measure “would be quite disruptive,” said James Ballentine, a lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, noting that more than 100 banking institutions, including giants such as Wells Fargo, accept the card.

The National Council of La Raza also will battle Mr. Culberson’s legislation. “We will definitely do what we can,” said La Raza’s Brenda Muñiz.

Karen Thomas of Independent Community Bankers of America said national security is helped if suspicious financial transactions can be tracked within the banking system by law enforcement.

Mr. Culberson said he is “absolutely confident” he will prevail. And he said he intends to seek other curbs on the matricula’s use.

“This card is an obvious gaping hole in our national security system,” he said.