Senate Immigration Bill Authorizes E-Verify as Surveillance Tracking

The Senate immigration bill (S. 744) is immense, so most Americans (and, more importantly, journalists) can be forgiven for missing the part that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use the bill’s mandatory employment verification system (E-Verify) as a surveillance system for workers.

The Senate’s E-Verify proposal is electronic national ID, allowing employers to identify new employees using a biometric system containing photographs or substantial personal information (p. 531). To assuage fears that E-Verify would expand to other uses, the authors of the bill included a clause stating that the E-Verify section was not authorizing any agency to use the system “for any purpose other than for employment verification” (p. 594).

This misleading language was carefully written to allow other sections of the bill or even current statutes to authorize the use of E-Verify for other purposes. Five hundred pages later, the authors explicitly expand the identification system into a surveillance system. Tucked at the end of the section on guest work visas under “Requirement to Monitor,” it states, “the [DHS] Secretary shall monitor the movement of W [temporary] nonimmigrants in registered positions through… the Employment Verification System.” (p. 1105).

In other words, the system will already be used as tracking and surveillance, not simply for employment screening. E-Verify records the physical location of the employment check, meaning it can be used to track location as well as verify identity. The authors of the bill might argue that the bill only targets foreigners (similar to NSA surveillance), but since U.S. citizens also have to go through E-Verify, it’s not clear how DHS would screen out the time and location data of Americans—and nothing in the bill requires them to do so.

Given the fact that most Americans oppose the current secret expansion of the NSA surveillance state, where is the demand for even more domestic surveillance?