In the interest of saving money, the Immigration and Naturalization Service wants to stop issuing the U.S. Citizen Identification Card, saying that it is unnecessary and is issued only as a convenience for immigration officers.

The government has issued the cards for more than 20 years, most of them to naturalized citizens who use them as a handy piece of identification when they reenter the United States, according to INS official Dan Stephan. INS has no idea how many citizens hold the cards, but Stephan said 24,000 were distributed last year. U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico and Canada are not required to present passports, and the citizenship card is easier to carry around than naturalization papers. But Stephan said immigration officers are "trained to identify true and false citizenship without documents" and that the identification card does not constitute proof of citizenship anyway.

In a proposed rule in the Federal Register yesterday, the INS said that old cards would continue to be valid, and "there is no evidence that abolishing the card will create any hardship." It will, however, free up more than $500,000 over the next two fiscal years, which the INS says it can put to better use.