“Maybe we should just brand all the babies.” With this joke, Ronald Reagan swatted down a national identification card -- or an enhanced Social Security card -- proposed by his attorney general in 1981. For more than three decades since, attempts to implement the proposal have all met with failure, but now national ID is back, and it’s worse than ever.
As in 1981, immigration restrictions have provided the justification. In the name of stopping illegal employment, proposals floated by a bipartisan group of senators would create both a physical national ID -- an “enhanced” Social Security card -- and even more menacingly an Internet-based, electronic ID that could be accessed anywhere to confirm identity.
After the election, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is leading the Democrats immigration push, told NBC News that one of his top priorities was to “make sure that there is a non-forgeable document” for all employees. After years of pushing for one, Sen. Schumer may have broken through GOP opposition. “We're going to have to come up with something, but the principle we all agree on,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said this week.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Politico that he was for “a super Social Security card that would have some sort of biometric things like a fingerprint in it.” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.)—also, a longtime supporter of national ID -- agrees. “You’ll have documents that can’t be faked,” he told CBS News after the election.
This path was the inevitable consequence of America’s broken immigration system. First, Congress made it prohibitively difficult to come. Then, unable to enforce that, they conscripted businessmen to police their workforce for them. Now that document fraud has ruined this scheme, the government wants even more surveillance.
But national ID is more than just a card with a name and number -- it is a system. It must contain data collected by the government on every legal worker that compares that name and number to you. This means the federal government must start collecting biometric information: pictures, fingerprints, retina scans, DNA, and whatever else is needed to make the system work.
Even worse than a physical card, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) has created an electronic national ID called electronic employment verification (EEV). The current rendition is known as E-Verify, which has combined DHS’s immigration database with the SSA’s database, containing your name, address, legal status, work authorization, and social security number.
The Senate immigration bill will mandate all employers use E-Verify to check the immigration status of their employees. Right now, employers can voluntarily submit the employee’s name and number to check if they match the name and number in the system. If the names or numbers don’t match, you must take further steps to prove your identity at SSA offices.
The system creates a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to employment that also allows DHS to monitor every worker throughout the country. Some proposed mandates would require employees who work multiple jobs to automatically visit SSA offices -- the new DMVs of employment -- to prove that they really do work both jobs.
“People say ‘National ID,’ ” Sen. Schumer told Politico. “[But] that's a card that you'd have to show whenever anyone, a police officer or anyone came up to you.” Actually, that’s not true. National ID is any mandatory system that could identify you at any given time. E-Verify combined with biometrics from state DMVs or elsewhere would meet that definition.
National ID need not be shown every time you go outside -- it could just be used at checkpoints, airports, and toll booths or to access the Internet, firearms, prescription drugs, jobsites, or apartment buildings. Both the federal government and several states already prohibit renting to unauthorized immigrants. Potential tenants may soon be required to pass E-Verify to obtain housing with a similar “multiple homes” check.
To argue that the same expansion of use -- already being applied to the SS card -- will not also apply to E-Verify is not believable. The calls for a national ID -- electronic or otherwise -- by these senators undermine their credibility when they claim their plan will actually stop illegal entries at the border. If it did, national ID and E-Verify would be unnecessary. America needs immigration reform, but what it doesn’t need is more bureaucracy and universal surveillance.