According to an article in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal (2-21-13) the Senate is considering a bipartisan plan to require all working people in the United States, citizen as well as non-citizen workers, to carry a biometric ID card with their finger prints or other markers in order for them to "prove" they have a right to work in this country.
This plan has come about as a result of bipartisan negotiations on an immigration bill. It was originally proposed for non-citizens but the senators involved, including Democrats as well as Republicans, decided the entire working class should be biometrically IDed. Some civil libertarians suspect the real function of the card is to create a national identity card that could be used to track and locate people wherever they happen to be-- at work, at home, in hospitals or airports, on the road, etc (the card could have a chip for this purpose-- Big Brother indeed!).
There are eight Senators on the committee working on a draft for an immigration bill and five of them favor the new ID including John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer. But they are not insisting on the ID at this point, merely tossing around the idea. The Wall Street Journal report is clearly a trial balloon to see what the reaction will be to this universal (for working class people) ID card.
The purpose of the new ID is to let bosses know what the legal status of a worker is and also to discourage illegal immigration since immigrants without the card won't get jobs (or so the plan is). The new system will replace the current E-Verify which lets the boss match a worker with a list of social security numbers; but this is a flawed system because of stolen, forged, and borrowed social security cards, according to the WSJ.
While ostensibly there are other ways to have immigrants IDed which the senators are looking at, Senator Graham (R., S.C.) thinks that only a biometric ID card (for all workers) will work. He is quoted as saying "This is the public's way of contributing to solving the problem" of people being in the US illegally. In other words, the contribution of the US working class is to allow itself to be potentially tracked by the government 24/7 so that the bosses will know who is and who is not "legal." The "public" would be wise to vote Sen. Graham out of office.
Senator Jeff Flake (R., Ariz), Sen. McCain's comrade in reaction, also on the committee, is also favorable (but says he is still open) to a biometric ID: "You have to give employers the tools" they need to check out potential workers, he maintains. Would the Senate also consider an ID for employers so that workers could check them out as well with respect, for example, to their attitudes towards the legal rights of unions, decent wages, workers rights, sick leave, and racist attitudes (if any), as well as women's rights, and views on voter suppression. Workers are more in need of tools to check out bosses than bosses are to check out workers.
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In 2010 Senators McCain and "Chuck" Schumer (D., N.Y.) devised a plan for a biometric ID card for immigrants (it would have had their fingerprints or a scan of the veins on the top of a hand) but today Schumer, along with Sen. Dick Durban (D., Ill.)-- who also backed biometric cards previously-- says the new bill they are working on may not include such a card.
President Obama does not back a universal biometric ID card but is in favor of getting biometric information from undocumented people who are in the US as a precondition for getting "legal status." As far as a universal card is concerned he advocates a "fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant Social Security card."
The remaining three senators on the committee are Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) [both "no comment"] and Robert Melendez (D., N.J.) who wants "antifraud measures" (the Senator is having his own "fraud" problems right now, perhaps the Senate needs some measure of anti-fraud protection that voters can have access to?)
At any rate, this trial balloon has lifted off into the atmosphere and the weather reports are beginning to come in. C. Calabrese of the ACLU says, the ID "becomes in essence a permission slip to do all of the ordinary things that are your rights as an American." Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute [originally the Charles Koch Foundation co-founded in 1974 by one of the Koch brothers] says "It's not only a gross violation of individual privacy, it's an enormously high-cost policy that will have an incredibly low to negligible benefit." Would it not be so bad if it were cheap and effective? Personally I don't trust the Cato people to care all that much about the violations of worker's privacy.
There are also other opinions coming in for and against the biometric card-- it is pretty much a mixed bag, but it seems there is opposition and support from both the liberal and conservative camps. While it really is a big civil liberties issue and the adoption of the biometric ID for all workers smacks of Big Brother perhaps, in our current deficit crazed political landscape, the economic cost will prohibit its adoption as a study out of the University of California (Berkeley) says it will cost over 22 billion dollars to put it in place and over 2 billion annually to run it. Progressives will have a major fight on their hands if that doesn't stop it.
Thomas Riggins is a university lecturer in philosoophy and ancient history and the book review editor for Political Affairs magazine.