Senators drafting a bipartisan immigration bill are considering the creation of a high-tech national identity card to be carried by all workers, whether or not they are U.S. citizens.
The biometric ID card would use fingerprints or other personal markers to establish a person’s legal eligibility to work, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In a statement, the bipartisan Senate group called only for workers to prove their legal status and identities through “non-forgeable electronic means.”
The lawmakers have not yet decided on the biometric card, although five of the eight senators writing the legislation have backed the idea in the past. At least three — Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York — have said they support requiring the cards but are open to other options, says the Journal.
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The goal of any legislation is to make sure employers quickly can determine the legal status of new hires, which would discourage illegal immigrants from coming into the country and seeking jobs.
The current system, E-Verify — which is used by a small number of businesses — matches prospective employees to a database of Social Security numbers and other data, but it is vulnerable to fraud.
Civil rights groups and privacy advocates, however, could object to a new card that could be used to track citizens wherever they go.
“I subscribe to the ‘If you build it, they will come’ school of regulations,” Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Journal, adding that he was worried the card would be required to board airplanes, to vote, or perhaps purchase a firearm.
“It becomes, in essence, a permission slip to do all of the ordinary things that are your rights as an American.”
Aides to several senators in the group — which also includes Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona, along with Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — told the newspaper that the biometric card would be used only for employment verification and not as a mechanism to link other personal data or to replace driver’s licenses.
The senators instead could move to strengthen the E-Verify system by measures such as requiring new employees to answer questions about previous addresses or other details.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports an expansion of E-Verify but has not taken a stand on biometric IDs.
Some businesses, warning that expanding E-Verify nationally could increase identity theft, favor a move to biometric cards, which they see as a better way to confirm eligibility to work, says the Journal.
The House is drafting its own immigration legislation, with one of the key sticking points being a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
A 2012 study by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, law school found that a national ID system would cost the government $22.6 billion to create and $2.1 billion each year to operate.
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