INS Raises the Ante for Counterfeiters


It’s 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 cards, which are being produced in Laguna Niguel and St. Albans, Vt., were mailed Tuesday to about 50,000 people whose current green cards are approaching the 10-year expiration mark.

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


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

Fake green cards are sold for $35 to $15,000 depending on the quality, officials said. “The market for these cards is fierce,” said Bill Strassberger, an INS spokesman, who added that there are an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

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, INS Deputy Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsh said.


“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, even for members of sophisticated crime syndicates who have capitalized on the production of expensive, high-quality illegal documents, she said. As a result, the new cards will severely hamper lower-level counterfeiting rings.

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.

By this fall, three more INS sites will begin making the new cards in Nebraska and Kentucky, allowing full production of the estimated 1.2 million green cards that are issued annually. Current green card holders do not need to replace their cards until they expire.


Trump Card


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

On the Front

Embedded hologram contains:

* Statue of Liberty


* Outline of United States

* INS seal

* Letters “USA”

* Words “United States of America” and “US Immigration and Naturalization Service” alternating



On the Back

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

* Laminated cover falls apart if altered


Source: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; Researched by BONNIE HAYES / Los Angeles Times