August 29, 2006 8:16AM

Cato Unbound — Migrating Toward National ID?

The current Cato Unbound, Mexicans in America, is the usual provocative and wide‐​ranging fare. There’s no lack of issues — or passion — in the debate about immigration.

One item in the current discussion that piques my interest — indeed, concerns me — is the formative consensus that “internal enforcement” of the immigration laws is a good idea. 

University of Texas at Austin economics professor Stephen Trejo writes:

Given that most illegal immigrants come to the United States to work, why don’t we get serious about workplace enforcement? Retail stores are able to verify in a matter of seconds consumer credit cards used to make purchases. Why couldn’t a similar system be put in place to verify the Social Security numbers of employees before they are hired? … I suspect that we could do much more to control illegal immigration by directing technology and other enforcement resources toward the workplace rather than toward our porous southern border.

Doug Massey, co‐​director of the Mexican Migration Project at the Office of Population Research, Princeton University, has interesting information and ideas for reform to which he would adjoin “a simple employment verification program required of all employers to confirm the right to work.”

It does sound simple — until you step back and realize that the simple idea they’re talking about is giving the federal government the power to approve or reject every Americans’ job application. Does anyone think that this power, once adopted — and the technology put in place to administer it — will be limited to immigration law enforcement?

To do this, all people — not just immigrants, all people — would have to be able to prove their identity to federal standards, likely using some kind of bullet‐​proof identity document (even more secure than current law requires). That will soon be in place thanks to the REAL ID Act. Once we’re all carrying a bullet‐​proof identity document, do you think that its use will be limited to proof of identity for new employees?

It’s easy to see how facile acceptance of internal immigration law enforcement adds weight to arguments for expanded government control and tracking of all citizens. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned with internal enforcement, and the national ID almost certainly required to make that possible. Many of them are discussed in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.