Senate Plan Calls for National ID Card to Curb Illegal Immigration

Wednesday, 10 Mar 2010 01:16 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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A national ID card using biometric data such as fingerprints is at the center of an immigration reform bill being hammered out in the U.S. Senate – a measure that once again probably will pit advocates of homeland security and tough immigration enforcement against civil libertarians, employers and immigrant rights groups.

The new effort by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., will revive the “Real ID” debate that has festered for years with little effect on illegal immigration. Under their plan, a universally required card would be encoded with all sorts of information regarding the holder, as well as contain a unique biometric signature created from either fingerprints or the vein patterns on the tops of the hands.

Bottom line: Employers will not be able to hire applicants who do not present a valid ID.

Schumer and Graham are slated to meet soon with President Barack Obama to brief him on their work. An administration official said the White House has no position on the biometric card, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Graham’s approach to the controversial IDs is simple: Americans already carry Social Security cards – this is the same thing, except tamperproof. So what’s the big deal?

“We’ve all got Social Security cards,” he said. “They’re just easily tampered with. Make them tamper-proof. That’s all I’m saying.”

“It’s the nub of solving the immigration dilemma politically speaking,” Schumer told the Journal. The card, he argued, would nip in the bud any surge of illegal immigrants. “If you say they can’t get a job when they come here, you’ll stop it.”

All sounds well and good, but predictably there are critics who see the card as the ultimate invasion of privacy that puts Big Brother at the shoulder of every honest American worker.

Conservatives are divided depending on their views on immigration vs. the potentially intrusive role of government. Fox New host Bill O’Reilly said Tuesday night that he favors a National ID Card, citing among other things the additional taxes that would be collected through reduced fraud. He called it a “moneymaker for the U.S.” O’Reilly, as well as former CNN host Lou Dobbs, an advocate of strong immigration enforcement, wants the measure fast-tracked this year.

But others don’t like the idea of a government with control of biometric data of every U.S. citizen.

“It is fundamentally a massive invasion of people’s privacy,” said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Homeland Security Newswire. “We’re not only talking about fingerprinting every American, treating ordinary Americans like criminals in order to work. We’re also talking about a card that would quickly spread from work to voting to travel to pretty much every aspect of American life that requires identification.”

Meanwhile, Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the pro-business Competitive Enterprise Institute, conjured up a number of reasons why America should steer clear of a national ID card.

“Every worker would have to ask permission from the federal government to get a job. American workers shouldn’t have to beg or plead to anybody to get permission to work. Being employed should be a private agreement between an employer and employee,” he told for FoxNews.com.

What's more, the system will exclude millions of legal workers by accident and fail to catch the majority of undocumented immigrants, Nowrasteh said.

“For instance, if E-Verify were instituted nationwide, 3.6 million Americans would be denied employment each year and have to visit the Social Security Administration to correct their records,” he said. (E-Verify is an online system to check whether potential employees are in the United States legally, but there have been chronic worries about the reliability and effectiveness of the system.)

There is also a question of practicality for the small business owner who would be required either to buy a special $800 scanner or trot his applicant worker information down to the nearest DMV to use a public scanner.

“The last thing an employer wants to do is spend time at the DMV when he could be spending it improving his business,” Nowrasteh said.

The cards would treat every American like a criminal by requiring them to enter their most intimate and personal data into a government database, he said.

Even as the national ID card remains a hot-button issue in any rework of immigration laws, the amnesty word still lingers. Under the Graham/Schumer bill, the 10.8 million or more people living illegally in the United States would be offered a path to citizenship.

To ensure that the path to legality does not smack too much of the dreaded “amnesty” word, the bill requires the illegals to register, pay taxes, pay a fine and wait in line. Meanwhile, a guest-worker program would crack the gates open to let a limited number of new foreigners come to the United States legally to work.

White House aides made it clear last year that immigration reform legislation would be on the administration’s target list in 2010. However, healthcare and attempts to mitigate the nation’s unemployment crisis has pushed immigration reform to the background.

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