Is a biometric, national ID card an immigration game changer?
The Democrats' immigration-reform proposal (pdf) is 26 pages long. Pages 8 through 18 are devoted to "ending illegal employment through biometric employment verification." I don't think the Democrats are going to like me calling this a biometric national ID card, as they go to great lengths to say that it is not a national ID card, and make it "unlawful for any person, corporation; organization local, state, or federal law enforcement officer; local or state government; or any other entity to require or even ask an individual cardholder to produce their social security card for any purpose other than electronic verification of employment eligibility and verification of identity for Social Security Administration purposes."
But it's still a biometric national ID card. It's handed out by the Social Security Administration and employers are required to check it when hiring new employees. Essentially, if you want to participate in the American economy, you need this card. "Within five (5) years of the date of enactment, the fraud-proof social security card will serve as the sole acceptable document to be produced by an employee to an employer for employment verification purposes," the bill says. "This requirement will exist even if the employer does not yet possess the capability to electronically verify the employee by scanning the card through a card reader."
The theory here is simple: Illegal immigration is a problem because illegal immigrants can get jobs. As the bill says, "in order to prevent future waves of illegal immigration, this proposal recognizes that no matter what we do on the border, our ports of entry, and in the interior, we will not be completely effective unless we can prevent the hiring, recruitment, or referral of unauthorized aliens in America’s workplaces. Jobs are what draw illegal immigrants to the United States."
That's why some think the biometric ID card a game changer for immigration politics. Enforcement might be popular, but the public knows full well that it doesn't really work. As things stand, the border is pretty militarized but the flow of illegal immigrants hasn't stopped. By focusing on the employment prospects of illegal immigrants and forcing workplaces to use biometric identification, Democrats hope to convince people that they have a real strategy for ending the problem of illegal immigration. And if they can convince people of that, they think they can get a path to legalization for the existing community of illegal immigrants as a way to mop up the remainder of the problem.
The oddity of this strategy, of course, is that anti-immigration sentiments run highest among the same communities that are most opposed to national ID cards. Now, it's also the case that if you're going to support citizenship searches for people with Hispanic-looking shoes, it's a bit odd to worry about an ID card to verify employment. But even so, without Republicans on the bill to give this strategy cover, it'll be interesting to see whether the anti-immigrant right embraces the ID card as a way of staunching the flow of illegal immigrants or assails Democrats for trying to create a biometric police state.