U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (L) of New York and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visit a control room for monitoring the containers scanner at a Hutchison International container port in Hong Kong March 25, 2006. (Photo : Reuters)
One consequence of the immigration reform bill being crafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" group of senators could be the adoption of a controversial work status verification system called E-Verify.
Conservatives in Congress are demanding that any immigration deal include a method for businesses to determine the immigration status of potential employees before hiring them. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York have pushed a plan that would require biometric ID cards that would identify workers based on physical characteristics like fingerprints.
While many civil liberties groups were wary of such a requirements, the plan seems likely to be scrapped over cost issues, which would have run $22 billion, according to an estimate last year by Berkeley Law School.
Instead, Republicans will likely settle for an expansion of E-Verify. Currently, only about 7 percent of U.S. businesses use the program, and both supporters and detractors acknowledge it is unreliable in its current form.
E-Verify typically checks an applicant's Social Security number against a database of eligible numbers. An undocumented immigrant can simply use provide the number of a legal resident or citizen, either borrowed from a friend or family member or stolen through identity theft.
But E-Verify also results in false positives. People who are authorized to work in the country are sometimes flagged as unauthorized, and getting a legitimate number off the flag list is an arduous process for applicants.
The Senate deal will probably involve making E-Verify mandatory in all 50 states, but detractors warn that it will do nothing to curb immigration, and many legal workers will be caught up in the filter, unable to clear their names.
If every employer in the country must use the system, it's likely people whose Social Security numbers come up flagged will simply not be called back for interviews, so it's possible a legal worker or U.S. citizen with an erroneously flagged number might have no idea why no employers ever call them in for interviews.
Graham and Schumer insist the flaws in the system are being overblown and that they will be corrected by the time the program goes national, and they support additional cross-referencing possibilities, like photo IDs.
Expect plenty of pushback from civil liberties and privacy proponents.