In a move that could split a coalition of eight Democratic and Republican senators discussing comprehensive immigration reform, a number of lawmakers want to explore the possibility of issuing U.S. workers high-tech identity cards that use fingerprints and other identifiers to prove a person’s legal status to work.
In hazily worded language from the senators, the ID cards would also track Americans at airports, hospital and other public spaces – worrying a number of privacy advocates and others concerned with being tracked by the federal government.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the “biometric” ID card issue is not set in stone and has some in the so-called Group of Eight worried that it could fracture the group. But at least five senators – including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Arizona’s John McCain and New York’s Charles Schumer – support the idea.
The theory behind the “biometric” cards is to deter undocumented immigrants from entering the country illegally and seeking jobs. The cards would allow lawmakers to quickly obtain the information of a prospective employee and would be similar to the E-Verify system now in place.
E-Verify uses social security numbers and other information to screen prospective employees, but can be fooled by undocumented immigrants who use false names or other information.
“This is the public's way of contributing to solving the problem" of illegal immigration, Graham said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Along with the Senate group, President Barack Obama supports a worker-verification system, but has not gone as far as to propose a biometric ID card. In the past, Obama has called for a “fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant Social Security card” and the White House has drafted legislation that would make undocumented immigrants provide biometric information as part of the qualification for obtaining legal status.
Many civil liberties groups see the biometric ID cards as an infringement of people’s rights and a pathway to violating facets of people’s private lives.
"I subscribe to the 'if you build it, they will come' school of regulation," said Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said he worried that 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,” Calabrese said.
Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, told The Wall Street Journal that these measures would be “a gross violation of individual privacy” and would cost a great deal of money for something with negligible benefits.
Aides to a number of the senators behind the measure said that these ID cards would not be used for other reasons other than checking a prospective employee’s immigration status.
In terms of cost, a 2012 study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley concluded that the price tag of such a program would be around $22.6 billion to create and another $2.1 billion a year to operate.