Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Hitch in Immigration Reform -- Worker ID Cards

An old idea has perked up its head again in the immigration reform debate -- universal worker ID cards. By "universal" is meant that all workers -- native and immigrant that are in the job market -- will have to carry them. Since the idea smacks of an internal passport -- and the idea was first floated when Americans roundly condemned the "pass-books" black had to carry in apartheid South Africa -- it was very unpopular and easily dismissed. But since 9/11 Americans have accepted many requirements to show identity -- at airports, at the Canadian border -- unheard of in quieter times.

This is the idea of Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY), chair of the Senate immigration subcommittee and expected to be principal author of new immigration legislation. The card would afford, so the theory goes, a surer way for employers to check on the status of their workers. To avoid discrimination it would be universal. It would also give the government a better fix on who is cheating. So far most employers don't like. They argue it would be cumbersome and costly. Civil libertarians argue it could lead to "big brother" intrusiveness, and labor unions fear it as a vindictive tool that can be exploited by unfriendly employers. Immigration activists have been divided on ID card before and are likely to be divided again. (See LA Times article.)

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