Policy Analysis No. 237

A National ID System: Big Brother’s Solution to Illegal Immigration

By John J. Miller and Stephen Moore
September 7, 1995

Executive Summary

Republicans in the House and Senate are moving quickly forward with Orwellian legislation that would create a national computerized registration system for all American workers. The new federal computer worker registry, which is intended to reduce illegal immigration, is the crucial first step toward the implementation of a national identification card system for all 120 million American workers. For the first time ever, employers would have to receive the government’s permission to hire a new worker. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has even urged that the ID cards contain individuals’ photographs, fingerprints, and even retina scans.

The computer registry and national ID card, which would confer on the federal government vast new police-state powers, is highly incompatible with the Republican theme of expanding freedom and reducing government. There are other problems with the concept: 1) the identification system could be easily expanded to include other purposes beyond deterring illegal immigration, such as implementation of a Clinton- style health security card, conducting background checks on individuals, and enforcing affirmative action laws and other government regulations; 2) the system would cost the federal government between $3 billion and $6 billion per year to administer; and 3) error rates that are commonplace for government databases would lead to hundreds of thousands of Americans being denied legal access to the workforce.

A computer registry would impose large costs on American citizens in terms of both dollars and lost liberties. Yet, as this study shows, the impact on illegal immigration would be minimal.

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John J. Miller is vice president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Stephen Moore is director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute.