Mar 01 2013

Will “E-Verify” become the new national ID?

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing this week on How E-Verify Works and How it Benefits American Employers and Workers.

Despite the boosterish title, the Subcommittee still heard testimony and received written statements that “E-Verify” doesn’t work, doesn’t benefit American employers or workers, and costs billions of dollars a year. But what’s even worse about “E-Verify”  is the likelihood that what is now an identity “verification” system will be expanded to include a mandatory national biometric identity card and permission-for-employment system, with a default of “No”.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Key senators are exploring an immigration bill that would force every U.S. worker—citizen or not—to carry a high-tech identity card that could use fingerprints or other personal markers to prove a person’s legal eligibility to work.

The idea, signaled only in vaguely worded language from senators crafting a bipartisan immigration bill, has privacy advocates and others concerned that the law would create a national identity card that, in time, could track Americans at airports, hospitals and through other facets of their lives….

The Senate group, in a statement guiding their work on a new law, called for workers to prove their legal status and identities through “non-forgeable electronic means.” Senate aides said the language was intentionally broad because of the sensitivity of the issue. Mr. Graham [Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC], in an interview, said that in his mind the language refers to a requirement for biometric ID cards.

How did the U.S. come to this?

The slippery slope began in 1986, with a law effectively repealing the right to work and shifting the burden of proof of legal eligibility for employment onto would-be workers. Since then, all employees have been required to provide their employers with evidence either of citizenship or immigration status entitling them to paid employment in the U.S. In effect, this law created a (rebuttable) legal presumption of non-entitlement to employment, giving new literal meaning to the slogan, “We are all illegal”.

The next step was E-Verify, “an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.”

E-Verify continued the presumption of illegality, and raised the burden of proof even higher: No evidence of identity, citizenship, immigration status, or eligibility for employment is deemed acceptable or sufficient unless it corresponds to records in the same error-riddled government databases that routinely categorize live people as dead.

Extending E-Verify to all employees would make employment a privilege contingent on Since not being listed correctly in those databases typically leads to denial of other government entitlements, “safety-net” benefits, and even access to bank accounts, failing an “E-Verify” check can be a sentence to starvation, not just unemployment, or to existence on the sufferance of family, friends, or private charity.

Adding a biometric “worker ID card” would add much to the cost, but little to the benefits (if any) of the system, since undocumented workers would simply obtain (valid) ID cards in stolen identities.  A study last year by Professors Jonathan Weinberg and Michael Froomkin for the Earl Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law found conservatively estimated the costs of such a scheme at more than $40 billion.

This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that proponents of a national ID card have tried to sneak it through Congress in the guise of a measure related to immigration, terrorism, or something else. But as with the Social Security account number, which has become an all-purpose personal ID number, it’s unlikely that government credentials and identifiers will be limited to the purposes for which they are originally created.

Tell Congress you oppose any national ID card — no matter what the excuse.