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Mexican IDs in the US

Something out of Alice in Wonderland happened in San Diego on Aug. 1 - an example of a growing aberration that many in Washington prefer to ignore.

About 70 people were standing outside the Mexican Consulate, waiting to apply for an ID card that Mexico has been eagerly giving its illegal migrants in the United States since March 2002. When four US Border Patrol agents passed by, the group scattered, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Five members of one family were detained and deported.

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The Border Patrol agents made the Alice-like mistake of not ignoring something that's become quite visible: Mexicans lining up at their 47 consulates, trying to gain a dubious form of legality in the US.

Close to 2 million illegal immigrants from Mexico have so far received the ID cards, called matricula consular (consular registration), which contain a person's name, local address, and photo. At the San Diego consulate alone, about 120 to 150 migrants line up each workday to get one. One reason for the recent rush is that California may soon follow a dozen other states and allow the cards to be used to obtain a driver's license - a prize for any illegal immigrant, and one that could be used to vote.

Hundreds of banks and police departments in the United States already accept the cards as valid identification from the scofflaw migrants. The cards' creeping acceptance, however, may also be a form of creeping amnesty for the estimated 5 million Mexicans living in the US without visas. Many in Washington have looked the other way as Mexico aggressively tries to legalize the migrants' status. But letting another country give a stamp of approval to illegal activity in the US is something out of a Mad Hatter's tea party.

The Treasury Department has waffled on whether banks should honor the cards. The FBI told Congress in June that individuals from many different countries have obtained the cards, posing yet another opportunity for terrorists to operate in the US. The House responded last month by voting to have the State Department regulate the issuance of such cards by foreign governments.

Those politicians trying to win the Hispanic vote (notably President Bush) may choose to wink at the matriculas. And many Americans may condone the cards as a necessary evil for having so many migrants doing work that Americans won't.

But the unfortunate acceptance of the cards is an affront to the rule of law and adds another difficulty to government efforts to catch terrorists.