Opinion
A Border Patrol agent checks the identification cards of a driver and a passenger passing through a check point in Amado, Ariz., Tuesday, July 27, 2010.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) A Border Patrol agent checks the identification cards of a driver and a passenger passing through a check point in Amado, Ariz., Tuesday, July 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)  

Legal Workforce Act is a stealth national ID

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Bob Barr
Former Congressman (R-GA)
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      Bob Barr

      Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He was known as a staunch advocate for limited government and individual liberty --- passions which continue to be the hallmark of his post-congressional work as a practicing lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, and as a widely-read and listened to public speaker and columnist. His reputation in support of individual privacy earned him the moniker “Mr. Privacy” from the late New York Times columnist William Safire. Bob has published three books, including one that recounts his leadership in the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, “The Meaning of Is.” Bob also teaches a course on constitutional law and public policy at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and serves as Chairman of Liberty Guard, Inc. a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting individual liberty.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up legislation tomorrow that, while advertised as vital to fighting illegal immigration, in reality will move America closer to a form of national ID and will put the feds in even greater control of businesses across the country. Conservatives and liberals alike who believe in maintaining at least some degree of privacy in the face of government-mandated databases and efforts to force employers to obtain Uncle Sam’s permission before hiring someone should strongly oppose this legislation.

The “Legal Workforce Act” (H.R. 2164) would require businesses to use the new, still-being-developed federal E-Verify system to ensure that new hires are either American citizens or legal immigrants. Supporters of this intrusive legislation dubiously assert that it could “open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans and legal immigrants.” The bill, however, is hardly an innocent attempt to ensure that workers are in the country legally. In fact, it would help achieve a long-standing goal of many GOP members of Congress to create a national ID.

Attempts in the past to create a national ID have been largely rebuffed. The most recent attempt came in 2005 with the REAL ID Act, which was attached as a rider to an emergency military spending bill. In the years since its passage, however, more than two dozen states have refused to implement the costly mandates, forcing Washington to repeatedly delay its full implementation. With that plan thwarted, supporters have turned to E-Verify as their new vehicle of choice to move the country toward a national ID.

Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, has concluded that mandating E-Verify would meet the basic criteria of a national ID — including serving as a legal hurdle for employment and incorporating some form of a biometric identifier: a picture or fingerprints. In June, Harper wrote that the E-Verify system will eventually become an “all-purpose security device, used for cashing checks, confirming the name on credit cards, and looking you up at the prescription counter.”

The system is also an extraordinarily bad idea from a privacy standpoint. Identity theft is on the rise and government entities are not immune to data breaches. A new database containing Social Security numbers, driver license information, birthdates, etc., would be a treasure trove for hackers and criminals.

Supporters of E-Verify would have us believe the program enjoys a high degree of accuracy. Such claims are hollow. And, the burden on employers and job applicants would be substantial. The American Civil Liberties Union recently noted, for example, that “if E-Verify had been mandatory [in 2010], 1.2 million Americans would have had to fix their records before they could start a new job.”

Realistically, E-Verify could not even meet its designed purpose, which is to keep illegal immigrants from gaining employment. According to the National Immigration Law Center, 54% of “undocumented workers” run through the system have been legally authorized to work.

With unemployment running more than nine percent, “jobs” understandably is a major buzz word on the political landscape. But the Legal Workforce Act is not about jobs. It’s about scaring people with the specter of being overwhelmed with illegal workers, and forcing employers to get the federal government’s permission before hiring an applicant is the only way to prevent this scourge.

There are much better ways to address this problem than subjecting virtually every U.S. employer and job seeker to surrender even more private information and control over their lives to federal bureaucrats. H.R. 2614 should be defeated.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.