Fed-Sponsored Program Allows Immigrants Without Social Security Numbers to Wire Money Home Cheap

A federal program designed to help legal immigrant Mexican workers wire their earnings back to families in Mexico also is providing a "fast, safe, and low-cost way" for illegal workers without Social Security cards to funnel money out of the U.S.

The program, Directo a Mexico, is open to all immigrant Mexican workers — legal and illegal — as long as they have the easily obtained matricular consular cards issued by the Mexican government to open bank accounts, transfer funds and do other transactions, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Some critics say these IDs are easy to get, which create a dangerous loophole for terrorists.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told FOX News on Wednesday that Congress needs to think about eliminating the program, since Mexican matricular consular cards allow anyone to open an account.

"They're using those matricular consular cards the Mexican government is issuing, and going in and using a photo ID, which can be a fraudulent document, and opening an account," Blackburn said.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., says the program allows banks to profit off illegal immigrants.

"This is just a way for banks to get in on the business that Western Union had for a while," Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa told FOXNews.com.

The program creates a loophole for terrorists to funnel money, Espinosa said.

"This opens the door to terrorists," Espinosa said.

Tancredo supports the transfer of money but not who banks accept to use it, Espinosa said.

"They are clearly catering toward illegals," he added.

Steve Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the ability to transfer money more easily helps terrorists.

Camarota said the matricular consular cards pose risks because there’s no way of verifying them.

“It seems to me that the key is to require a valid Social Security number,” Camarota said. “You want to at least take the common sense step of preventing it from being a way of helping illegals.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta says the program gives "customizable, Spanish-language materials" for banks to use to market the program as a "fast, safe, and low-cost way for consumers to transfer funds to family and friends in Mexico," according to its Web site.

Earlier this month, lawmakers lashed out at a program that allows customers without Social Security numbers to obtain credit cards.

Bank of America Corp. has come under fire from critics questioning that program which allows immigrants without Social Security numbers to apply for credit cards.

Tancredo asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to review the Bank of America program, which accepts applicants without a Social Security number and credit history if they have held a checking account with the bank for three months without an overdraft.

The Fed expanded the Directo a Mexico program in September for new accounts at participating banks and credit unions for legal or illegal immigrants. The program receives about 27,000 transfers each month.

Fed employees created the program with Mexican central bank officials in 2003. President Bush announced the program with former Mexican President Vicente Fox. About 150 banks and credit unions participate in the program.Only immigrants in the U.S. legally can get a Social Security number. Mexican nationals can obtain consular IDs, illegal or not.

The Fed offers a competitive exchange rate and charges banks 67 cents for each wire transfer to Mexico. It can cost customers about $2 to $5 per transfer, regardless of the amount, with additional bank fees.

Private wire services usually charge more and include additional fees for larger transfers.

Bank of Mexico says the average cost of wiring $300 to Mexico from the U.S. was $10.40 last year.

Click here to read a Los Angeles Times story on Directo a Mexico.