YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

California and the West

Safeguards Part of New Green Cards

Immigration: High-tech ID has microscopic pictures of all U.S. presidents and all 50 state flags in an effort to prevent counterfeiting.


It is being called the high-tech green card, a piece of plastic packed with dozens of counterfeiting defense measures--including individual pinhead-sized portraits of all 42 U.S. presidents--that federal government officials say make it virtually impossible to duplicate, even for the most resourceful fraudulent document suppliers.

"This card blows away the California driver's license, which has always been regarded as a pretty sexy document technology-wise," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Laguna Niguel. "It makes that thing look like a stone tablet."

The first batch of the new permanent resident alien cards, which are being produced in Laguna Niguel and St. Albans, Vt., were mailed Tuesday to about 50,000 people whose cards are approaching the 10-year expiration mark.

At least 4 million California residents hold the cards, commonly known as green cards, INS officials said.

Over the next decade, the new green cards will replace the 10 million cards issued since 1989, when INS officials last made changes and security upgrades to reduce mass counterfeiting of the documents.

Fake green cards are sold for $35 to $15,000 depending on the quality, officials said. About 5 million illegal immigrants are believed to be living in the United States.

"The market for these cards is fierce," said Bill Strassberger, an INS spokesman.

Last year in Santa Ana, immigration agents seized nearly 20,000 fake cards and arrested four people involved in a multi-state counterfeit document ring. A government study later found that one of four newly employed immigrants at 230 Southern California firms presented invalid work documents over the course of seven months.

Such rampant counterfeiting of green cards forced officials to up the ante against forgers, said INS Deputy Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsh.

"I'm not going to say no one will ever be able to replicate these cards, because of course we know from history that if it can be done, they will find a way," Wyrsh said during Tuesday's unveiling of the high-tech green card in Washington. "But we are significantly ahead of the game at this point. Significantly."

Forging the new cards will be too expensive, she said, even for members of sophisticated crime syndicates who have capitalized on the production of expensive, high-quality illegal documents. That alone will severely hamper lower-level counterfeiting rings, she said. The old paper green cards are easily forged by lifting the laminate, altering the information and photograph and then laminating the card again, Kice said. The new cards are hard plastic designed to fall apart if the laminated cover is tampered with.

More security features--including microscopic drawings of all 50 state flags, a dozen holograms, laser etching and a digital color photograph of the holder and his or her fingerprint--have been added to the new card as well.

An optical memory stripe on the back of the card that stores all of the cardholder's information will enable it to be scanned into computers at Border Patrol crossings and by INS officials during inspections.

Those with current green cards do not need to replace them until they expire.


Dealing a New Card

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has a new green card"--officially called a permanent resident card--that it hopes will foil counterfeiters. Major features of the new card:

On the Front

Embedded hologram contains:

* Statue of Liberty

* Outline of United States

* INS seal

* Letters "USA"

* Phrases "United States of America" and "US Immigration and Naturalization Service," alternating


On the Back

* Cardholder photo and other information laser-etched into memory stripe makes card readable by INS scanners and prevents erasure or alteration.

Hologram embedded in laminate, so that tampering causes card to fall apart.

Source: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Researched by BONNIE HAYES / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times Articles