immigration reform

Immigration Reform Could Lead to Biometric ID Cards for Everyone

The Gang of Eight discusses immigration.

Immigration reform is already a contentious issue, and now lawmakers drafting the legislation are considering a measure that could rile privacy advocates and anyone who’s watched a few dystopian sci-fi films. Senators in the “Gang of Eight” have made vague references to shifting to employment verification documents that are harder to forge, since the current E-Verify system can be foiled fairly easily with stolen names and Social Security numbers. According to The Wall Street Journal, several members of the Senate group are in favor of introducing a “biometric” ID card, which would use fingerprints, a scan of veins in the top of a person’s hand, or another unique biological trait, and could possibly become mandatory for all American workers.

The leaked White House immigration blueprint calls for illegal immigrants to submit biometric information to qualify for a new type of visa, and the Senate group has said the new law should require workers to prove their identities through “non-forgeable electronic means.” Aides said that language was intentionally broad because the senators are open to several options and know it’s a sensitive issue. Still, five of the eight senators writing the bill have supported biometric ID cards in the past. In January, John McCain and Chuck Schumer said at a Politico Playbook breakfast that they’re in favor of requiring biometric cards under the new law. Lindsey Graham told the Journal that he supports the measure as well, adding, “This is the public’s way of contributing to solving the problem” of illegal immigration. While they’ve previously backed using biometric data, Jeff Flake and Dick Durbin suggested that new ID cards won’t necessarily be included in the new legislation.

Sources familiar with the Senate group’s negotiations on the bill said that rather than a biometric card, the legislation might focus on strengthening the E-Verify system, possibly by having people answer more questions about their personal information. Less than twenty states require businesses to use the E-Verify system, and a 2009 study conducted for the Department of Homeland Security found that 54 percent of unauthorized workers were still approved by the system.

If the legislation does call for biometric identification, aides to the senators insisted that the cards would only be used for employment verification, and not to track other personal information, like air travel, hospital visits, or firearm purchases. However, it seems unlikely that Americans would trust the government on that point. Many gun rights advocates are already convinced that just registering their firearms with the federal government is a prelude to confiscation, and people from both sides of the political spectrum say the government tracking biometric data leaves too much potential for misuse. “I subscribe to the ‘if you build it, they will come’ school of regulation,” says Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It becomes in essence a permission slip to do all of the ordinary things that are your rights as an American.”

Immigration Reform Could Lead to Biometric IDs