Washington Markup

Identity Theft and the War on Immigrants

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:41pm

The war on America's immigrants can lead to some very strange results. In a classic example, last year Republicans actually said, when it comes to immigration at least, new government regulations actually create jobs. But these attacks on immigrants cause real harm to ordinary Americans who don't think that immigration affects them. We've already talked about how mistakes in E-Verify, the federal database of eligible workers, can keep Americans from getting jobs. Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing that highlights another problem with E-Verify.

If the country's leading civil liberties and privacy groups wrote a letter saying, "A nationwide mandatory E-Verify system would be one of the largest and most widely accessible databases of private information ever created in the U.S. Its size and openness would present an irresistible target for identity thieves," what would that tell you? What about if the world's largest educational and scientific computing society stated in congressional testimony "E-Verify remains vulnerable to identity theft, employer fraud and may serve as a valuable tool for identity fraudsters … mandatory use would basically also mandate an increase in computer fraud, abuse, and identity theft."

If you're the House Judiciary Committee, the message you hear is that Chairman Lamar Smith's "Legal Workforce Act" (which creates a mandatory E-Verify program for everyone) can reduce document fraud and identity theft. On its face this is very puzzling. Especially when you discover that improper processing of E-Verify forms has already resulted in at least one data breach exposing the personal information of over 37,000 Minnesota residents. Or when you learn that experts say more breaches are likely because of improper digital storage of E-Verify information by small businesses that frequently lack data security expertise.

But when you dig deeper something becomes clear: the Smith bill isn't aimed at criminal identity theft. It's not concerned if the new system makes social security numbers more readily available so they can be used to open fraudulent credit cards or steal financial account information. It is only aimed at reducing one particular identity theft crime — undocumented immigrants using real social security numbers to get jobs.

To be sure, this is a real issue and we don't want anyone misusing personal information, but it's also the least harmful type of misuse. It wouldn't keep the real owner of that social security number from getting a job or harm anyone's credit. It's only used by immigrants who want to get jobs and work. In fact by registering with the government, these immigrants are actually paying taxes ($11.2 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund in 2007) that they will almost certainly never collect.

To recap, the purpose of the Legal Workforce Act is to make it more difficult for people who want to work (and pay taxes). It has already caused at least one data breach and is almost guaranteed to expose more personal information and make identity theft worse. Just another example of how the war on immigrants is really an attack on everyone's privacy.

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