Feds may soon check all workers' IDs
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY Thu Mar 2, 7:02 AM ET
Congress is headed toward approving a plan that would
require employers to check every worker's
Social Security number or immigration work permit
against a new federal computer database.
Critics see the move - aimed at stemming illegal
immigration - as the beginning of a government
information stockpile that could be used to track U.S.
"We're getting closer and closer to a national ID
card," says Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the
American Civil Liberties Union.
Lawmakers such as conservative House Judiciary
Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and liberal
Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record),
D-Mass., have signed on to the verification plan,
which is included in some form in every immigration
bill currently before Congress. The goal is to make
sure everyone working in the USA is doing so legally.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which handles
immigration, begins drafting its version of the bill
today. The House bill passed in December.
The bills would require that a pilot program now used
by 5,000 employers to check the legal status of job
applicants be made mandatory.
President Bush's 2007 budget includes $135 million to
start expanding the verification system nationwide.
Proponents say new tools are needed to curb illegal
immigration. There are now an estimated 11 million
illegal immigrants in the USA. "If we're going to have
any means of controlling our borders, you have to have
a tamper-proof Social Security card and verification
at the time of employment," says Rep. Dan Lungren,
Rep. Ken Calvert (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif.,
says "this is not a national ID system." But several
bills authorize studies of "tamper proof" Social
Security cards or their issuance. The cards would
include some biometric data and would be harder to
During a debate in 1984, former representative Don
Edwards, D-Calif., compared a proposed enhanced Social
Security card to an "internal passport." Twelve years
later, conservative GOP lobbyist Grover Norquist
flooded Capitol Hill with activists wearing washable
tattoos of an inventory bar code to show how a
government clearinghouse could become a way to "track"
Both sides agree that Congress' willingness to
consider such proposals represents a political shift.
"They're talking about things that, if I had talked
about, they would have burned my humble butt," says
former GOP senator Alan Simpson, who helped write
immigration laws passed in 1986 and 1996. He contends
that Congress' past refusal to create a secure ID
system to verify employment eligibility is a reason
that neither law stemmed the flow of illegal
Former Republican representative Bob Barr of Georgia,
now on the ACLU's advisory board, agrees that
attitudes have changed, but he doesn't think that is
positive. "Far too many people have been swept into
the post-9/11 system of fear that is the basis of all
public policy these days," he says.