Immigration Reform Must Not Sacrifice Fundamental Liberties, Says ACLU

June 25, 2009
National ID And Biometric-Based Employment Verification Would Violate Americans’ Privacy
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org
 
WASHINGTON – President Obama today met with lawmakers to discuss upcoming action on immigration reform. Leading up to the meeting, Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chair Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) Wednesday proposed a biometric-based employer verification system as a key element of comprehensive immigration reform. The ACLU welcomes reform of our nation’s broken immigration system, but not at the cost of cherished fundamental liberties and privacy protections.
 
“An overhaul of the broken immigration system is unacceptable if it trades fundamental civil liberties for quick fixes,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “No immigration reform proposal should include a biometric national worker ID system or a massive, expensive employment verification system. Proposals to fingerprint and photograph every American worker and to track them in massive national ID databases are politically infeasible and prohibitively costly.”

National ID systems and electronic employment verification (EEV) systems pose a serious threat to Americans’ privacy, because they form the backbone of a system to create electronic profiles of every American. When linked to other databases, a biometric-based national ID system will provide the federal government with information about people’s employment and travel activities. Such a national ID system could eventually be used for other purposes, including checking whether a person can vote or own a gun.

A biometric-based national ID system will require a formidable and costly bureaucracy which will create burdens on Americans similar to a trip to the DMV, Social Security Agency or immigration agency. Long lines, complex document requirements and government mistakes will be the norm. Already, federalizing the DMV system (even without the addition of a new biometric) via the Real ID Act was estimated to cost more than $23 billion and has been thoroughly rejected by the states (24 states have already rejected Real ID). In addition, all employers would have to purchase expensive biometric readers and suffer work delays while attempting to verify their employees’ status.

“National IDs and EEVS are a direct attack on both American employers and workers,” said Christopher Calabrese, Counsel for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project. “Workers will be forced to wait in long lines and contribute their tax dollars for the dubious privilege of giving up their privacy and being treated like criminals.”  

A centralized national database of personal information about workers will also be an irresistible target for criminals. This will make identity theft more likely, not less. Additionally, a National ID and EEV system will prove largely ineffective. It will do nothing to stop the use of false documents and crooked insiders who insert authentic but fraudulent records in biometric systems. Nor will such proposals do anything to curb employees that work "off the books."
 
To see the ACLU’s statement on the necessary elements of meaningful immigration reform, see: /immigrants/gen/40043res20090625.html
 
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