GOP Immigration Bill Includes National ID Language

An immigration reform bill moving quickly through the U.S. House of Representatives contains language requiring the Social Security Administration, Treasury Department and Department of Justice to study the concept of a machine-readable Social Security card with a photo ID.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation (H.R. 4437), sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.), on a party-line 23-15 vote Thursday. Next week the House is set to vote on the bill, which calls for mandatory verification of employees’ legal status and increases enforcement along the Mexican border.

But language about the machine-readable Social Security cards has alarmed civil libertarians who fear it could lead to a national ID card for all Americans.

Language in the bill requires the Social Security Administration, Treasury Department and Department of Justice to submit a report to Congress nine months after the bill’s enactment that explores the idea of “Social Security cards that are made of a durable plastic or similar material and that include an encrypted, machine-readable electronic identification strip and a digital photograph of the individual to whom the card is issued.”

The cards would be issued to both U.S. citizens and non-citizens who are employed or seeking employment and applicants for new Social Security cards or new Social Security numbers. The report requires an examination of the feasibility for employers to use the machine-readable cards to identify an employee’s eligibility for hire based on a “unified database” maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

Civil libertarians attacked the bill Thursday.

“This shameful incongruity in national ID language is a textbook example of Orwellian doublethink,” said Liberty Coalition National Director Michael Ostrolenk. “A real border security law would secure the borders, making this kind of police-state Big Brother tracking of Americans unnecessary. I strongly urge Congress to remove this section.”

While the Liberty Coalition expressed concern about the government’s studying the concept of a machine-readable Social Security card, it also criticized language that would require employers to start verifying job applicants’ legal status — a provision that has the support of conservative Republicans seeking to crack down on employment of illegal aliens.

The illegal alien verification system, to be maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, would offer employers a toll-free telephone number to check an employee’s status as a U.S. citizen. Within three days, employers would have an answer from the government.

“Even setting aside concerns of intentional ‘blacklisting’ of innocent Americans, even a small error rate could mean millions of Americans forced out of work by computer mistakes,” said Liberty Coalition Policy Director James Plummer. “Homeland Security has a poor record of putting innocent Americans on secretive “no-fly” lists, and should not be entrusted with determining who is allowed is to make a living in this country.”