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Immigration Reform Needed, But Not at This Cost


Immigration is a hot topic these days, and everyone seems to be talking about the many problems with the Senate's immigration reform bill. Unfortunately, for some reason there has been very little talk about several of the bill's key provisions that would undermine the civil liberties of all Americans.

For instance, Title III of the bill expands the error-plagued Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), creating a vast federal database to verify the eligibility to work of all job applicants in America -- including U.S. citizens. This expansive system would contain extraordinary amounts of personal information on everyone who seeks or holds a job, all of it keyed to a person's Social Security number. If the immigration bill passes as written, all Americans will need to have their eligibility to work approved by the Department of Homeland Security. Invariably, DHS will confuse the files of people with similar names or use outdated or erroneous information to deny people the right to work, creating a 'No Work List' similar to the government's 'No Fly List.' They have testified that they will need to "manually reverify" the work-eligibility of eight percent of all workers.

EEVS itself is based on the abject failure known as the Basic Pilot Verification System, used by only 16,000 of the nation's 8.4 million employers. Technological snafus, database errors and bureaucratic bungling in that pilot project have caused, and will continue to cause, delays and financial losses to both employers and potential employees. Expanding this program nationwide will only exacerbate these problems.

Another provision of the bill expands the problematic Real ID Act. The Real ID Act was originally tacked on to a must-pass military spending bill in 2005, and passed with no hearings and no debate. It requires states to produce standardized driver's licenses that contain a machine-readable component -- a de facto national ID. Every American will be required to use the driver's licenses created by Real ID to board a plane or enter a federal facility.

Real ID also directs states to restructure their computer databases and create an extensive new document storage system. Every state's DMV database containing Americans' most personal information -- from Social Security numbers and birth dates to copies of birth certificates and bank statements -- will be linked and accessible to DMV employees and others across the country.

By placing personally identifiable information in databases accessible to countless individuals across the country, Real ID makes this information more vulnerable to misuse and identity theft. The machine-readable component will make it easy for businesses and hackers to snap up our personal information, turning Real ID into a one-stop shopping mall for identity thieves.

Real ID is widely unpopular. Sixteen states have already passed measures opposing Real ID, and that number is certain to grow. In addition, a wide range of organizations including the Cato Institute, National Network to End Domestic Violence, as well as gun owners and enthusiasts, oppose Real ID.

As a part of the deal cut between the White House and the gang of 12 senators driving the immigration bill, senators will vote on 22 amendments. One of these, offered by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), would require every American to carry a hardened Social Security card containing the cardholder's biometric information (such as fingerprints or DNA).

If Senator Schumer's amendment passes, Americans would be potentially forced to carry two national ID cards -- a Real ID compliant drivers' license and the "hardened" Social Security card. These IDs would become a key part of a system of identity papers, databases, status and identity checks and access control points -- an "internal passport" that would be used to track and control law-abiding Americans' movements and activities. Senators should reject any attempt to use immigration reform to institute a national ID.

The ACLU is supporting two good amendments that will be voted on in the Senate. One, offered by Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, would strike the Real ID requirements from the bill. The other, offered by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Baucus (D-MT) and Barack Obama (D-IL), would substitute a due process- and privacy-friendly EEVS plan for the one written by Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the Department of Homeland Security that is a part of the base bill. These two amendments are needed to protect our privacy and block attempts to create a national ID.

There is no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform, but not at the expense of our civil liberties. Any immigration reform measure passed by Congress must respect due process, protect privacy and adhere to the values of our country and our Constitution. We certainly hope that senators keep this in mind as they vote on these measures.

Please join the ACLU, human rights groups and thousands of Americans on June 26, 2007 in Washington, DC for a Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice.