Biometric ID cards for immigrants?

John Dimsdale May 16, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Just as the president asked, the Senate moved forward on immigration reform today. And in a left-handed kind of way they did exactly what he wanted. Conservatives were trying to delay a guest worker program until border security was taken care of. The Senate voted down that amendment. Which you can chalk up as a win for the White House. The president has said many times he really wants that guest worker program. But now, somebody’s got to figure out the hard parts, as Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports from Washington.

JOHN DIMSDALE: In his Oval Office speech last night, President Bush said employer accountability is a necessary part of any immigration reform. He called for a government system to help businesses verify that prospective workers are who they say they are.

PRESIDENT BUSH: A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law and leave employers with no excuse for violating it.

The immigration bills in Congress call on the government to establish a comprehensive electronic database of eligible workers within five years. The Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration are already experimenting with a pilot program to cross-check employee numbers online. But there’s a flaw: most of the illegal immigrants in the country have fraudulent Social Security cards.

Deborah Meyers at the Migration Policy Institute says some sort of tamper-proof card is a minimum requirement before employers can be held accountable for who they hire.

DEBORAH MEYERS: There’s no doubt that in a number of fronts we’re moving toward an increasing use of biometrics. They’re going to be required in drivers licenses, in cards for airplane travel, etc.

Meyers says the biometric employee card should only be used for employment verification, to keep it from becoming a kind of national identification card.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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