By John A. Curr III

U. S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s leadership on fixing the nation’s broken immigration system is commendable, but his plan would violate core American values of privacy and liberty. President Obama, Congress and New Yorkers ought to reject it.

To his credit, Schumer recognizes that tearing apart families and deporting millions of people is impractical and inhumane. Unfortunately, his proposal to establish a biometric worker ID card would greatly expand the government intrusion into Americans’ private lives and likely kill immigration reform.

According to the proposal, everyone seeking work in the United States—citizens and immigrants — would have to obtain an ID card containing his photograph and biometric data, such as fingerprints or an iris scan. Employers would be required to verify job candidates’ identities against the biometric data embedded in the card.

This is much more invasive than a “super Social Security card.” Schumer’s proposals would create an entirely new identity document. Essentially, it would establish a national identification system, a concept long opposed by Americans across the political spectrum.

President Ronald Reagan blasted a 1981 proposal for a national worker ID card, calling it the biblical “mark of the beast.” More recently, bipartisan resistance has indefinitely stalled implementation of the Real ID Act, a 2005 law setting federal standards for state driver’s licenses that many fear would set the framework for a national ID system.

The proposal would enable increased government and corporate surveillance of our daily lives. The ID cards would contain a machine-readable zone allowing government bureaucrats and private corporations to develop electronic profiles of our everyday activities.

Businesses would have to purchase expensive scanners to verify people’s biometric data. (Schumer estimates that they’ll cost about $800 apiece.) This amounts to a financial bonanza for the growing “smart card” industry, but a boondoggle for everyone else.

Inevitably, technical glitches would plague the electronic databases needed to support the worker ID system, costing people jobs and hindering productivity. Surely, some businesses would refuse to hire anyone who appears “foreign” to avoid hassling with the ID system. Others simply would continue to hire undocumented immigrants.

There are better ways to discourage businesses from exploiting undocumented immigrants, who compose about 5 percent of the nation’s work force. Stricter enforcement of wage, hour and other labor laws is less intrusive, less expensive and far more practical than forcing hundreds of millions of Americans to obtain biometric IDs.

Schumer should abandon his ill-advised worker ID plan and focus his considerable influence and ability on delivering sensible immigration reform that strengthens everyone’s rights and liberty.

John A. Curr III is director of the Western Regional Office of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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