Immigration: Bringing Technology to Bear

Washington Matters

Immigration: Bringing Technology to Bear

It's a surefire way to stem the flow of illegal immigrants: Require identity checks based on the latest biometic technology before letting them anyone have a job. It wouldn't end the black market, but it would prevent illegals from taking so many of the better paying and steadier jobs that attract them to this country. However, there's a problem.

Actually several problems. It would cost a fortune to implement. No matter how good the technology, it would still depend on people using it properly. It would be a big burden on employers. And it raises privacy concerns  because every American would have to have a biometric ID.

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So maybe it's not such a great idea after all.

The biometric plan is being pushed by New York's senior Democratic senator, Charles Schumer, who plans to make it part of a comprehensive immigration bill he hopes to have ready by Labor Day. President Obama and the Democratic leadership want to push an immigration bill this year, although it's unlikely that Congress will have the time and will to pass it before 2010 or 2011.


The goal is a new guest worker program and a path to legal status for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.  Opponents insist that amounts to another amnesty and they won't hear of it. Democrats say it's not amnesty because illegals in this country would have to pay penalties and back taxes and go to the back of the line. They also argue that it is just unreasonable to try to deport all the illegals, an effort that would cost hundreds of billions and only be partially successful.

Everyone agrees, however, that the public won't accept an overhaul of immigration law unless there is better enforcement and real assurances that illegals will be denied jobs. That's why Schumer is pushing the biometric ID. At a recent hearing, scientists insisted it's technologically feasible -- even easy -- but "logistically challenging" and sure to be costly. Employers, immigration proponents and civil rights groups all have objections of some sort.

Schumer has yet to offer specifics of his biometric verification proposal, and he plans more hearings to explore ways to minimize the cost and red tape. He insists it is doable, and points to the fact that the U.S. already fingerprints foreigners who enter the country under the U.S.-VISIT program. The U.S. also requires 5.7 million federal employees and contract workers to have ID cards with machine-readable chips and fingerprint data. And Schumer got a big boost last week when the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations issued a report on immigration recommending a biometric immigration system.

Government officials and other members of Congress are already leery. They point to the opposition that forced repeated delays and revisions in the Real ID requirement for secure drivers' licenses. Most states said they couldn't afford to meet the federal standards. Civil liberty groups, meanwhile, oppose anything that smacks of a national ID card, and this certainly does.

If Schumer decides to go for it, he'll have his work cut out for him. On the other hand, there's no effective way of keeping illegal immigrants out of the U.S. job force that won't be difficult and costly.