Tag: E-Verify

The New—-Cardless!—-National ID

Your chance to comment on a Department of Homeland Security plan to tap into state drivers’ license databases and create a new national ID system expires next week. It’s the groundwork for a cardless national ID, which threatens liberty even more than card-based schemes like REAL ID.

The E-Verify program’s move to merge federal background checks and state driver license data sets the stage for satisfying all three elements of a national ID. (Two years ago, I discussed what constitutes a national ID in some detail.) E-Verify has not satisfied these criteria up to now, but the pieces are coming together quickly.

First, it is national. That is, it is intended to be used throughout the country, and to be nationally uniform in its key elements. If its proponents have their way, E-Verify will indeed soon go national, a requirement on every employer to vet new workers past the federal government’s databases.

Second, its use is either practically or legally required. This is a judgment call, but in two diferent ways, E-Verify appears to meet this element. First, not having data in the E-Verify databases means not having legal work, so “participation” in E-Verify can be fairly called practically required. Second, try to opt out of the system and you will meet a dead end. The program includes no opportunity I know of to refuse participation. It’s legally required if the state or federal governments have got your identity data.

I could be wrong, of course. Interested researchers should try contacting their state motor vehicle bureaus (cc: your state legislators) and ask not to have data about you transferred to the federal government for E-Verify. Please let me know what you learn.

The final “element” of a national ID is that it is used for identification. Up to now, E-Verify has  largely worked by comparing identifiers. (I.e., Does this name match this Social Security number?) The current plan is to tap into state databases for more identifiers: name, date of birth, driver’s license/permit number, and so on. From there, it’s a short ride to gathering drivers’ license photos and biometric descriptors. (E-Verify already uses federally acquired photos in its “Photo Screening Tool.”) With the inclusion of your driver’s license photo, the E-Verify system will be able to display your picture on the screen of anyone who looks you up, allowing for positive identification.

This is a national identification system. If every employer has to use E-Verify—or even every major employer—it will become the all-purpose security device, used for cashing checks, confirming the name on credit cards, and looking you up at the prescription counter. Of course, it will be used at airport checkpoints. You’ll be screened through E-Verify at entrances to government buildings—maybe private buildings, too. And why not for random, “instant” checks at the subway or bus station? 

Just remember: If you have a tax dispute with the government, the Department of Homeland Security might flag you in the database—or it might de-identify you entirely—until you get right with the government.

Because it’s a database system, you won’t be able to argue your case like you can in the familiar card environment. With a card, at least, you can say, “No, look. This is me. This is my ID card. This is my picture. Give me my prescription.” With E-Verify, the answer will be, “Sorry, you have to talk to DHS or Social Security.” For good reason, I named my paper on electronic employment eligibility verification, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Arguments for the E-Verify system sounding in practicality and common sense do not hold up, but there are also principled reasons to oppose having a government background check system. Using E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security is rapidly assembling a national ID system that can be converted to boundless uses. In addition to controlling employment, E-Verify can be put to use in regulating access to health care and housing, in gun control and registration, in monitoring travel and lodging—the list goes on and on.

I went through the arguments against having a national identification system in my book, Identity Crisis. In brief, a national ID would strip us of privacy even faster than is already happening, producing formal dossiers and increased surveillance. A national ID would transfer power en masse from individuals to governments. They would administer our rights by controlling the tools we need to navigate a “papers, please” society. A national ID would also be insecure, as it centralizes and homogenizes information assets (identity data) that are more secure if widely dispersed and heterogeneous.

As I noted last week, the federal government cannot and will not implement the REAL ID Act. So it’s on a new tack: E-Verify will soon be the new national ID.

E-Verify and Common Sense

This weekend, New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat wrote a piece full of common sense thinking about immigration control and the E-Verify federal background check system.

“Common sense”—or “what most people think”—is an interesting thing: When generations of direct experience accumulate, common sense becomes one of the soundest guides to action. Think of common law, its source deep in history, molded in tiny increments over hundreds of years. Common law rules against fraud, theft, and violence strike a brilliant balance between harm avoidance and freedom.

When most people lack first-hand knowledge of a topic, though, common sense can go quite wrong. Such is the case with ”common sense” in the immigration area, which is not a product of experience but collective surmise. Douthat, who has the unenviable task of leaping from issue to issue weekly, indulges such surmise and gets it wrong.

Take, for example, the premise that American workers lose when immigration rates are high: “Amnesty,” says Douthat, would “be folly (and a political nonstarter) in this economic climate, which has left Americans without high school diplomas (who tend to lose out from low-skilled immigration) facing a 15 percent unemployment rate.”

On the whole, American workers do not lose out in the face of immigration. To the extent some do, it is penny-wise and pound foolish to retard our economy (in which displaced workers participate) and overall well-being (which affects displaced workers, too) in the name of protecting status quo jobs for a small number of native-borns.

Full immigration reform that includes generous opportunities for new low-skill workers is not folly, whatever its political prospects may be.

But I want to focus on Douthat’s conclusion that E-Verify is the way forward for immigration control. He cites a study finding that Arizona’s adoption of an E-Verify mandate caused the non-citizen Hispanic population of Arizona to fall by roughly 92,000 persons, or 17 percent, over the 2008–2009 period, and concludes:

[M]aybe — just maybe — America’s immigration rate isn’t determined by forces beyond any lawmaker’s control. Maybe public policy can make a difference after all. Maybe we could have an immigration system that looked as if it were designed on purpose, not embraced in a fit of absence of mind.

Though tentative, his implication is that a national E-Verify mandate is the solution. Everything that came before was the product of fevered impulses.  Maybe E-Verify is the most practical solution. Douthat’s calm tone sounds like common sense.

Ah, but neither Douhtat or the authors of the study have thought that problem all the way through (and the study doesn’t claim to): The decline in Arizona was not produced simply by moving illegal immigrants from Arizona back to Mexico and Central America. They went to Washington state and other places in the United States that are less inhospitable to immigrants. A national E-Verify mandate would offer no similar refuge, and the move to underground (or “informal”) employment would occur in larger proportion than it did in Arizona.

The report also cautions that the honeymoon in Arizona may not hold:

[T]he initial effects of the legislation are unlikely to persist if actors in the labor market learn that there are no consequences from violating these laws. Hence, for long-term effectiveness, policymakers should also consider the role of employer sanctions, which have not played a large role in Arizona’s results so far. However, policymakers must weigh the sought-after drop in unauthorized employment against the costs associated with shifting workers into informal employment.

That’s antiseptic language for: investigations of employers, raids on workers, heavy penalties on both, and growth in black markets and a criminal underground. “Balmy” is a way of describing the temperature potatoes pass through in a pressure cooker.

It’s hard, on analysis, to see Arizona’s experience being replicated or improved upon by an E-Verify mandate that’s national in scale without a great deal of discomfort and cost. I surveyed the demerits of electronic employment eligibility verification in “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

There is more not to love in the Douthat piece. Take a look at this shrug-o’-the-shoulders to the deep flaws in the concept of “internal enforcement” and E-Verify:

Arizona business interests called it unfair and draconian. (An employer’s business license is suspended for the first offense and revoked for the second.) Civil liberties groups argued that the E-Verify database’s error rate is unacceptably high, and that the law creates a presumptive bias against hiring Hispanics. If these arguments sound familiar, it’s because similar critiques are always leveled against any attempt to actually enforce America’s immigration laws. From the border to the workplace, immigration enforcement is invariably depicted as terribly harsh, hopelessly expensive and probably racist into the bargain.

We should disregard these problems because they’re familiar? With regard to E-Verify, they’re familiar because they are the natural consequence of dragooning the productive sector into enforcing maladjusted laws against free movement of people from a particular ethnic category to where their labor is most productive.

Problem-solving is welcome, and columnists like Ross Douthat have to at least point to a solution with regularity. But this effort, sounding in common sense, does not rise to the challenge. The solution is not even more enforcement of laws inimical to human freedom. The solution is reforming immigration laws to comport with … common sense!

And Then You’ve Got Your Pro-Regulatory Republicans…

President Obama’s “Regulatory Review” executive order, issued this week, has no effect on the regulatory environment that I can discern. It essentially encourages agencies to continue doing the thinking and analysis they are doing so poorly under existing law and executive decree. I called it “a cosmetic, symbolic effort” in the Washington Examiner and—you’ll get the backstory here—also speculated that it’s an effort to change the subject. “Regulatory review” has briefly turned the press away from the government’s huge, ongoing spending spree, and the pall of uncertainty that President Obama has cast over the economy with projects like his re-design of the American health care system.

But don’t take that as an endorsement of the Republican program. Yesterday, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) issued a statement endorsing the E-Verify program, which deputizes large and small businesses into a federal government document-checking program. You’d think that clearing out regulatory underbrush and getting people to work would be part of the Republican program, but Johnson said, “I will work with my colleagues and key stakeholders to design a verification system that prevents illegal employment while safeguarding the jobs, identities and privacy of U.S. citizens.” Can’t be done.

If you want to get a taste of the complexity, privacy consequence, and cost of E-Verify as it struggles through its nascent stages, take a look at this truly excellent summary of a recent GAO report. The system now prohibits the employment of around 26 people for every thousand potential new hires, down from 80—and that’s the good news!

There’s much bad news. (The always-understated Government Accountability Office says “significant challenges.”) Identity fraud and employer noncompliance are (predictably) growing, so U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services is negotiating to get access to driver’s license data from state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Along with state bureaucrats, federal bureaucrats are (predictably) weaving together the national identity infrastructure that the American states and people rejected with the REAL ID Act.

And then there are costs. The last thing we need is more government overspending, right? So USCIS and the Social Security Administration are hiding it. Says the ever-accomodating GAO:

USCIS’s cost estimates do not reliably depict current E-Verify cost and resource needs or cost and resource needs for mandatory implementation. While SSA’s cost estimates substantially depict current E-Verify costs and resource needs, SSA has not fully assessed the extent to which its workload costs may change in the future.

This is the intrusive, costly program that the House Republican majority is falling in line behind, a clear sign that business-as-usual is business-as-usual for both parties. It’s a record-setting rejection of the Tea Party zeitgeist that put them in power. Where does it say in the Constitution that every employment decision in the country can be run past the federal government for approval?

Is Rep. Luis Gutierrez Pro-National ID?

There are many interesting facets to this story in the Chicago Tribune—among them Rep. Luis Gutierrez’ signal that he might support having a U.S. national ID.

“We need to know who’s working in the United States, and we need to make it easy,” Gutierrez told the paper, referring to the push to create a national ID in immigration reform legislation Congress may consider this year.

The story also describes how a UPS worker nearly lost her job because the name she was using—her married name—doesn’t match up with Social Security Administration records. I discussed how electronic employment eligibility verification would plunge Americans into an identity-bureaucracy morass in my paper, “Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

Expect much more Kafkaesque identity bureaucracy—and greater government control of your life—if a national ID is part of immigration reform. When you find out that your papers aren’t in order and that you’ve been denied access to work, housing, financial services, and health care, one of the Washington deal-makers you have to thank may be Luis Gutierrez.

Need a Mortgage? Your Papers, Please …

In case you need any evidence that the federal background check system would expand to cover many more things than employment, that process is already underway. H.R. 4586 would require someone seeking modification of a home mortgage loan held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to be verified under the E-verify program. (Same would go for modifying mortgages insured under the National Housing Act.)

SSA Fails to Verify With E-Verify

Stephen Dinan reports in the Washington Times that the Social Security Administration—an integral part of the E-Verify government background check system—regularly fails to use E-Verify properly.

Despite helping run the government’s electronic database designed to weed out illegal-immigrant workers, Social Security failed to run E-Verify checks on its own employees nearly 20 percent of the time.

That’s according to this report, which also found that SSA failed to verify employees during the correct time-frame a whopping 49% of the time.

E-Verify is not supposed to be used for pre-screening, but SSA ran a background check before hiring new employees 25% of the time. Fifty-one percent were screened timely. The remaining 24% were screened after the seven-day window during which new hires are supposed to be screened.

If the federal agency at the heart of this background check system can’t operate it well, this casts doubt on the idea of mandating every private employer across the country to use it.

I discussed some of the problems with programs like E-Verify in my paper, “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration.”

“I E-Verify”: Do Businesses Agree With Your Values?

My March 2008 paper, Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration, detailed the problems with electronic employment verification systems. The paper concludes that successful “internal enforcement” of immigration law requires a national ID—and ultimately a cradle-to-grave biometric tracking system.

The Department of Homeland Security has started a program called the “I E-Verify” campaign for businesses that use the federal background check system on its employees. If you see businesses with “I E-Verify” decorations or insignia, they at least indirectly support a national ID system in the United States. This can help you decide whether or not you want to spend your dollars with them.