One way Republicans are trying to redeem themselves with Latino voters that overwhelmingly chose Barack Obama for reelection over their candidate Mitt Romney, is by allegedly softening their stance on comprehensive immigration reform. There are renewed talks of a bipartisan bill with the 2010 Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R- SC) blueprint being used as a template. But that bill is not the progressive action many advocates have been clamoring for. In fact one of the most controversial aspects of the blueprint, which failed to materialize as an actual bill , is a biometric social security card.
This electronic identity card would probably look like a regular bank card with printed identity information including a social security number on the surface, perhaps a photograph, as well as an embedded microchip. That chip could contain fingerprints or retinal scans. The card would have to be held by all U.S. citizens and documented immigrants. The purpose is to allegedly prevent undocumented workers from getting jobs. Wannabe employers would have to swipe or scan the card with a machine to confirm the identity and legal work eligibility of the job seeker. Employers who don’t comply with the system or who hire ineligible workers could face fines or even jail for repeat offenses.
This is not a new idea. For a number of years now there has been a push towards a some sort of a national id card, allegedly more reliable and secure and harder to counterfeit. But this idea raises more issues than it actually solves. All U.S. workers, not just immigrants would have to have one of these cards. It’s also not clear what would be the cost involved in rolling out such a program. Most certainly administrative costs would be passed down to individuals. Back in 2010, Senator Chuck Schumer put the price at about $800 for card-reading machines, hardly chump change for small and medium sized businesses.
This approach essentially would make the national employment verification program E-verify mandatory. E-Verify used in the limited way it is now has already shown some problems with accuracy, identifying workers who are eligible for employment as ineligible. Currently, E-Verify has about a 4 percent error rate. If expanded nationally and tied to a biometric social security card, just a 1% error rate could mean more that a million people would be wrongly deemed ineligible for work.
Privacy advocates worry about how and where biometric information would be stored and the possibility of the government abusing that information especially if the information were stored on a database instead of just on the card itself. Plus there is no guarantee that this card would be more likely to prevent identity theft nor that it couldn’t be counterfeited.
Another worry coming from civil liberties organizations is that a biometric i.d. will end up becoming an identity document required to do everything from travelling to taking out a library book, or even voting. The Hispanic Institute came out against the entire Schumer- Graham four point plan. In a statement released yesterday, the nonprofit organization said that the biometric aspect has “the potential for mass intrusion on personal privacy is real and should alarm every American.”
There’s no telling when or even if the Schumer-Graham blueprint will actually make it to the Senate floor for a vote. But a biometric social security card could happen without such a bill. We have already seen how the Department of Homeland Security has turned the optional Secure Communities immigration enforcement program into national policy. A biometric I.D. card could be one way DHS could make E-Verify mandatory for all employers and employees.