Immigration Reform Must Respect Civil Liberties, Says ACLU

March 19, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have outlined a framework for immigration reform that they shared with the president last week, according to news reports. The senators have built the framework around four main issues: mandatory biometric Social Security cards for all Americans; ramping up border and interior immigration enforcement; redesigning a system for temporary workers; and creating a tougher plan for legalizing the immigration status of those already in America. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomes thoughtful reform of America’s immigration system but insists it cannot be at the expense of cherished fundamental liberties and privacy protections.

“We cannot trade away our most essential civil liberties while attempting to fix our broken immigration system,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “A biometric national ID system or a massive employment verification system would essentially require every American to obtain a ‘permission slip’ in order to work. Like the social security number, use of a National ID would quickly spread to other areas like travel, voting, financial transactions and other cherished rights.”

The senators’ proposal of a new and expensive electronic employment verification system and biometric worker identification plan is a thinly-disguised strategy to implement a national ID. National ID systems and electronic employment verification (EEV) systems pose a serious threat to Americans’ privacy. Not only do they force Americans to seek government approval before they can work, they also 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. Electronic employment verification systems can also increase discrimination against authorized workers based on race, language and national origin.

Although the senators claim there would be no creation of a national database, it would be impossible to run a verifiable biometric system without a database and in fact no government identity system has ever been created without one. A mandatory national biometric ID would impose new burdens on our country’s authorized workers, risk our privacy and would, in the end, not prevent the hiring of cheap labor from undocumented workers.
“It is unacceptable to force every American worker to be fingerprinted in order to work,” said Christopher Calabrese, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The bureaucracy created to run this system will be a combination of the worst features of TSA and the DMV. The entirety of the American workforce will be burdened with implementing a system that will do little to stop the use of false documents and corrupt employers who will continue to use ‘off the book’ workers. Immigration reform is necessary and overdue but, without adhering to our constitutional values, our government runs the risk of making things worse for every American.”

In addition to objecting to a mandatory biometric ID system, the ACLU calls for reforms that correct the serious due process problems currently plaguing the immigration detention system and which guarantee the humane and constitutional treatment of all individuals within our borders.

“The ACLU urges Congress to fix the endemic due process failures present in our immigration system,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The needless and prolonged detention of immigrants must be halted immediately. Detaining immigrants who pose no risk or danger for prolonged periods of time, often without any end in sight or a way to challenge their detention, flies in the face of our constitutional values. Congress needs to ensure that any immigration plan is subject to vigorous judicial oversight by our federal courts.”

To see the ACLU’s statement on the necessary elements of meaningful immigration reform, see:

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