Tag: E-Verify

“We’re Going to Have to Come Up with Something.”

And that something is a national ID.

The quote is Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY), speaking about immigration reform at Politico’s Playbook Breakfast. The national ID gloss is mine, based on the immutable logic of “internal enforcement.”

Senators Schumer and McCain (R-AZ) say that the “Gang of Eight” senators who are working up an immigration reform package are united on the idea of making it impossible for illegal immigrants to get work in the United States. The only way to do that is to put all working Americans—if you work, that means you—into a national ID system.

“People say, ‘National ID card,’” Senator Schumer says. They do because that is what he’s talking about.

Now, they haven’t gotten all the way through the logic of their plans. Senator Schumer talks about a “non-forgeable [Social Security] card,” but a Social Security card only proves that a certain name is linked to a certain number. If a system is going to prove that a given person is entitled to work in the United States, it must be an identity system. It must compare the identifiers of the person to the identifiers in the system, whether held on a card or in a database, so that it can assess their legal status, including natural-born citizenship.

This is why Senator Schumer also talks about biometrics. The system must biometrically identity everyone who works—you, me, and every working American you know. There is no way to do internal enforcement of immigration law without a biometric national identity system.

It looks as though E-Verify, an incipient national ID system, will be a part of most or all comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Ironically, immigration reform that aligns the law with our country’s economic need for labor would obviate the need for E-Verify and a national ID. 

There are lots of ways to become familiar with the national ID issues that have yet to bubble up in this early stage of the immigration reform debate. My 2006 book, Identity Crisis, is a decent primer on identity and national ID generally. I examined the direct line between internal enforcement of immigration law and a national ID in my 2008 paper: “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.” And my article in last year’s special Cato Journal on immigration reform was called: “Internal Enforcement, E-Verify, and the Road to a National ID.”

The Good and Bad of the Immigration Reform Blueprint

Today, the so-called Gang of Eight senators revealed a blueprint for an immigration reform bill. Details in the actual legislation will matter a great deal but these are initial impressions based on the blueprint. The good and the bad.


  • Earned legalization for non-criminal unauthorized immigrants. After paying fines, back taxes, undergoing a criminal background check, and other firm penalties, unauthorized immigrants will be able to stay in the United States and eventually earn a green card. This will increase their wages over several years much faster than if they remained unauthorized. 
  • DREAMers will not face the same penalties as unauthorized immigrants who intentionally broke U.S. immigration laws, which is a positive step.
  • Legalization for unauthorized immigrant workers in the agricultural industry will be fast-tracked. This is especially important because the majority of farm workers in most states are unauthorized immigrants.
  • Removing some regulatory barriers and increasing quotas for highly skilled immigrants. This will likely include an increase in the number of employment based green cards and removing the per-country quotas that produce wait times for Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Filipino workers. Currently, numerous firms and immigrants are dissuaded from even trying to obtain employment based green cards because of the enormous wait times.


  • Increases the amount of resources spent on border security. The size of the border patrol is double of what it was in 2004. The number of border patrol agents is seven times greater than what it was in the 1980s with about nine times as many on the southern border. More technology and aerial drones on the border will be wasteful and not produce results.
  • Strong employment verification system like E-Verify. As I wrote here, here, and here, E-Verify is an intrusive big government workplace identification system that does not even root out unauthorized immigrants. In Arizona, which has had mandatory E-Verify since 2008, many unauthorized immigrants have moved deeper into the black market, some industries fire numerous unauthorized workers but don’t hire natives to fill the spots, and the business formation rate dropped because the penalties for intentionally or knowingly hiring unauthorized workers are so draconian.
  • Increases regulations for guest worker visas. Current guest worker visas for agricultural workers are so overregulated that they are barely used. Adding more regulations will only make the visas more unusable and incentivize American farmers and employers to hire unauthorized workers.

A viable guest worker program will increase economic growth in the United States. Guest worker visas are not as good as green cards for lower-skilled workers, but they are the only viable option at this moment. The devil is in the details but this blueprint does not provide for enough future low-skilled immigration.     

You Can Say it All You Want

…but that doesn’t make it true.

One of the laws recently signed by the president, which Congress quietly passed before leaving town to campaign, was Public Law 112-176. Among other things, it extended the authorization the national background check system, E-Verify.

A line tacked on to the end of the law speaks to an issue with E-Verify:

Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the planning, testing, piloting, or development of a national identification card.

Well, you can say it all you want, but that doesn’t make it true.

Maybe Congress is playing a little trick, saying “no national ID card,” knowing that E-Verify is a cardless national ID system.

New Hampshire Says No to National ID

New Hampshire has been a bellwether state in national ID debates before. I wrote about its push-back against the E-Verify federal background check system in a recent post entitled “Cardless National ID and the E-Verify Rebellion.”

The bill that was the subject of that post, HB 1549 by Rep. Seth Cohn (R-Merrimack 6), has now passed the Senate, and it is on its way to Governor John Lynch’s desk for his signature.

It is pared down from its original version, but it now makes clear that state driver’s license records cannot be used in a national identification system. That is what E-Verify is rapidly becoming, and New Hampshire has rapidly said “No.”

‘How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help’

I know little about a House Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow on E-Verify, but the title of it has a peculiar odor: “Document Fraud in Employment Authorization: How an E-Verify Requirement Can Help.”

You see, the immigration policies Congress has set are the source of the problem. Document fraud is made more likely by employment authorization requirements meant to enforce them, which are also—let’s remember—intrusive and costly business regulation.

In my Cato Policy Analysis “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” I wrote about restrictive immigration policies and the intrusive “internal enforcement” programs they have spawned. In a section titled “Counterattacks and Complications,” I examined how workers and employers will collude to avoid and frustrate worker verification. Mandatory E-Verify will increase identity and document fraud because it makes these frauds profitable. Trying to solve this problem, the government will naturally gravitate toward more powerful identity systems, including biometric identity cards and tracking.

Sure enough, House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith’s bill, the “Legal Workforce Act,” has a “pilot program” for a biometric national identity card.

When committing fraud is the pathway to productive employment, you know something is out of whack. Among the things out of whack are: too-restrictive immigration policy, internal enforcement, and E-Verify. This is supposed to be a free country where willingness and ability are the keys to employment.

National Surveillance Programs and Their State Impediments

Having originally come to Washington to defend federalism, I am always delighted to see the division of powers among the states and the federal government have its proper effect: to protect liberty and limited government.

As with REAL ID, the E-Verify federal background check system is meeting up with state resistance. The Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire reported yesterday:

This afternoon, the House passed HB 1549, which would prohibit the state’s participation in the E-Verify system, with a nearly unanimous voice vote. The House also killed HB 1492, which would require employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States using the E-Verify System, with a 226-59 vote.

E-Verify is essentially a national identification system that requires employers to verify all job applicants’ citizenship in a national database system before they can employ them. If the state agreed to participate, all citizens would have to be listed in this national database as a U.S. citizen in order to get a job.

You want to fix immigration, feds? You do it without putting American citizens into a national ID system. Good message.

Here’s the clear language of HB 1549, which the New Hampshire House has approved to govern release of motor vehicle records. It embraces legitimate law enforcement while rejecting national identification schemes.

III. Motor vehicle records may be made available pursuant to a court order or in response to a request from a state, a political subdivision of a state, the federal government, or a law enforcement agency for use in official business. The request shall be on a case-by-case basis. Any records received pursuant to this paragraph shall not be further transferred or otherwise made available to any other person or listed entity not authorized under this paragraph. No records made available under this section shall be used, directly or indirectly, for any federal identification database. (New language in bold.)

To learn more about E-Verify and its role as a nascent national identification scheme, read my Cato Policy Analysis: “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Cardless National ID and the E-Verify Rebellion

New Hampshire was the state where the “REAL ID rebellion” got its start. There, in 2006, Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) took to the floor of the New Hampshire House to talk about his principled opposition to the federal national ID law.

In stirring words, Kurk urged his colleagues to overturn a committee recommendation that no action should be taken on his bill to have New Hampshire reject REAL ID. The House went on to pass his bill and half the states in the nation soon followed suit.

Now a bill pending in the New Hampshire House responds to a more insidious version of the federal government’s national ID plans: E-Verify.

E-Verify is a federal background check system that its proponents intend to be used on every person seeking work in the United States. Once in place, E-Verify would expand to new uses, giving the federal government direct regulatory control of all Americans’ lives through control of proof of identity. It’s being fitted to operate using only databases, so I’ve been referring to it as a “cardless national ID.”

New Hampshire Rep. Seth Cohn (R-Merrimack 6) has introduced a bill to prevent his state from contributing New Hampshirites’ personal data to the E-Verify system. HB 1549 would not only prohibit the state from allowing citizens’ personal data to be used in E-Verify. It would prohibit the state from requiring employers to participate in the E-Verify system.

It’s an appropriate response to the Department of Homeland Security’s latest move. You see, a branch of E-Verify is called the “RIDE” program. That stands for “Records and Information from Department of Motor Vehicles for E-Verify” (Yeah, it’s a stretch…) Basically, RIDE is the conduit through which the states are going to start passing data to the federal government, weaving together that national ID outside of the REAL ID Act.

In their desire to bring illegal immigration under control, a lot of people have convinced themselves over many years that growing the federal government and conscripting businesses into “internal enforcement” of immigration law was the way to go. Unfortunately, that route costs a lot of money, it bloats the federal government, and it requires a national ID system, which is a threat to liberty that Americans reject. My paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration,” goes through many of the details.

Is this the beginning of the E-Verify rebellion? It’s a welcome addition to the national debate from the “Live Free or Die” state.