By Alexander Bolton
A plan by Senate Democratic leaders to reform the nation’s immigration laws ran into strong opposition from civil liberties defenders before lawmakers even unveiled it Thursday.
Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft of the measure.
The proposal is one of the biggest differences between the newest immigration reform proposal and legislation crafted by late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.
It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization databases.
“The cardholder’s identity will be verified by matching the biometric identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner used by the employer,” states the Democratic legislative proposal.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil liberties defender often aligned with the Democratic Party, wasted no time in blasting the plan.
“Creating a biometric national ID will not only be astronomically expensive, it will usher government into the very center of our lives. Every worker in America will need a government permission slip in order to work. And all of this will come with a new federal bureaucracy — one that combines the worst elements of the DMV and the TSA,” said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel.
“America’s broken immigration system needs real, workable reform, but it cannot come at the expense of privacy and individual freedoms,” Calabrese added.
The ACLU said “if the biometric national ID card provision of the draft bill becomes law, every worker in America would have to be fingerprinted.”
A source at one pro-immigration reform group described the proposal as “Orwellian.”
But Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has worked on the proposal and helped unveil it at a press conference Thursday, predicted the public has become more comfortable with the idea of a national identification card.
“The biometric identification card is a critical element here,” Durbin said. “For a long time it was resisted by many groups, but now we live in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our identification.
“People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to present identification,” Durbin added. “We want it to be reliable, and I think that’s going to help us in this debate on immigration.”
Implementing a nationwide identification program for every worker will be a difficult task.
The Social Security Administration has estimated that 3.6 million Americans would have to visit SSA field offices to correct mistakes in records or else risk losing their jobs.
Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the biometric identification provision “will give some people pause.”
But she applauded Democrats for not shying away from the toughest issues in the immigration reform debate.
“What I like about the outline is that Democrats are not trying to hide the ball or soft-pedal the tough decisions,” Kelley said. “It seems a very sincere effort to get the conversation started. This is a serious effort to get Republicans to the table.”
Reform Immigration for America, a pro-immigrant group, praised Democrats for getting the discussion started but said the framework fell short.
“The proposal revealed today [Thursday] is in part the result of more than a year of bipartisan negotiations and represents a possible path forward on immigration reform,” the group said in a statement. “This framework is not there yet.”
Democrats and pro-immigration groups will now begin to put pressure on Republicans to participate in serious talks to address the issue. The bipartisan effort in the Senate suffered a serious setback when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pulled back from talks with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“We call on Republican Senators to review this framework and sit down at the negotiating table in good faith,” Reform Immigration for America said in a statement. “This is a national problem that requires a federal solution and the input of leaders in both parties.”
Durbin said Democratic leaders are trying to recruit other Republican partners.
“We’re making a commitment to establishing a framework to work toward comprehensive immigration reform, and I think it’s a good framework and now we’re engaging our friends on the other side of the aisle to join us in this conversation,” Durbin said.