Deadline for higher-security border cards on Monday

Sunday, September 30, 2001

WASHINGTON -- A rule requiring Mexicans who routinely enter the United States to use identification cards with fingerprints takes effect Monday despite two glitches: Many Mexicans have yet to obtain the new cards and the immigration agency has yet to install machines needed to read them.

Congress mandated the use of the cards at the Mexican border in 1996 but has extended the deadline at least twice.

The cards, which also feature magnetic strips, help fight fraud, such as theft, forgery or obtaining multiple cards.

Without the machines needed to read the new cards, however, U.S. authorities must eyeball them the same way they did the old ones, in essence rendering the new security features meaningless.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service asked Congress for money to buy the machines two years ago, but was turned down because it didn't know the specific equipment needed, INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said.

Now the agency knows what it needs to scan the cards but doesn't have the money, he said.

Some Mexicans have yet to obtain the new cards, ensuring more confusion when they present their old cards to enter the United States to work Monday morning. The cards permit Mexicans to enter the country and travel within 25 miles of the border for up to 72 hours at a time.

The State Department, which issues the cards, has asked Congress to extend the deadline, but lawmakers have yet to vote on it and are now back in their home states for the weekend. It's unclear how warm a reception the request will get when they return.

"I think the time for extensions is over," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said Friday. Smith, former chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, said the deadline has been extended twice.

The current chairmen of the House and Senate immigration subcommittees, Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., support a further extension.

Smith said he assumed that Mexicans with old border-crossing cards would be admitted to the United States on Monday, under heightened security due to the Sept. 11 attacks, and would continue to be admitted until INS gets the machines it needs to read the new cards.

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