In this column last week, I raised the alarm about the “E-Verify” program proposed to be implemented as part of the Legal Workforce Act (HR 2164) under consideration to be fast-tracked by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). Now, even before the legislation has passed the House, it has morphed into something far broader and more troubling than its initial permutation. It truly must be rejected.
Originally, the most troubling aspect of this legislation — supposed to protect the American economy against illegal immigrants being employed by U.S. businesses — was its requirement that businesses run names of job applicants through the government-run E-Verify database to ensure new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States. Although its supporters said that the bill was not a “National ID,” it clearly incorporated the potential to become just that. It even included a mandate that the government sign off on any persons hired by companies.
Now, we have learned that mission creep has already infected the legislation and dramatically broadened its reach. For example, language that purported to prohibit use of the database for purposes other than citizenship verification suddenly has been dropped. In its place, the legislation would now authorize E-Verify to be used to “protect critical infrastructure,” whatever that means.
Thus, the legislation, if enacted, could be used by the government to grant or deny access to anything it decides is related to national security, including access to certain facilities or programs controlled by the federal government, such as access to commercial air carriers.
A coalition of groups — including Downsize DC, the Republican Liberty Caucus, Tea Party Nation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute — have announced their opposition to the bill, even buying a full-page ad in Politico. The groups also sent a letter to members of Congress warning that the Legal Workforce Act would hurt small businesses, put Americans at risk of identity theft and further erode civil liberties.
Moreover, the groups noted in the letter that mandating E-Verify would create a “de facto National Identification System, and the enabling language that mandates the intrusive collection of personal data could grow to include biometrics such as fingerprints, DNA and/or iris scan.”
The letter also notes that the legislation “violates the philosophy of the Constitution and intent of the Framers by subordinating the liberty of citizens to the administrative convenience of government. And the Founding Fathers would have rebelled against such a staggering federal intrusion into every workplace in the nation and our personal civil liberties.”
Concerns also have been expressed over the cost to private businesses forced to comply with its mandates, estimated at more than $6.0 billion. The American Civil Liberties Union also notes that “[a]pproximately 770,000 [workers] would have lost their jobs simply because their information was wrong in a government database.”
Purely and simply, the Legal Workforce Act is a bill that at its core is all about expanding government control over businesses and individuals at all levels of the economy. When the Judiciary Committee resumes mark-up of the bill on Wednesday, hopefully a majority of its members will see through the rhetorical fog surrounding HR 2164, and defeat it.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lamar Alexander is the House Judiciary chairman. In fact, Lamar Smith is the House Judiciary chairman.
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.