Senate immigration group: National ID too costly
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators working on a sweeping immigration bill will likely abandon the idea of a new high-tech ID card for workers because it's too expensive, a key negotiator said.
That means their emerging legislation, which they've promised will crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, likely will seek to expand a little-used system criticized as error-prone and vulnerable to fraud that employers can use to check the legal status of workers, mainly using Social Security numbers.
The system, called E-Verify, is now purely voluntary, and officials with labor and immigrants' rights groups say it would have to be greatly improved before being required nationally.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., members of the bipartisan Senate immigration negotiating group, had championed creation of a biometric ID card instead that would use personal markers such as fingerprints to make it easy for employers to check the status of prospective hires. But Graham said cost estimates came back higher than he expected.
"That seems to have been cost-prohibitive, so we're looking at other ways to achieve the same goal," Graham told reporters this week at the Capitol.
Graham said no final decision had been made on ditching the biometric ID card idea, which had also sparked civil liberties concerns, and he declined to say how much such a card would cost. A study by the University of California, Berkeley Law School's Warren Institute last year estimated start-up costs to the government for such a program would top $22 billion.
For Graham, Schumer and the other six senators trying to finalize an immigration bill by next month, a workable employer verification system is fundamental to legislation that also would secure the border, improve legal immigration and provide eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here. The immigration bill signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 is often criticized because it legalized nearly 3 million people while offering assurances that employers would have to verify the legal status of workers, but included no real mechanisms to ensure that happened.
Graham said that no amount of border enforcement would stop the flow of illegal immigrants without measures to keep employers from hiring them.
"If you don't control who gets a job, it doesn't matter how high the fence is," Graham said. "The best virtual fence is an employer verification system."
E-Verify was launched as a pilot program in 1997 and now is used by about 7 percent of employers. It's largely voluntary as a federal program but mandatory in some states. Draft immigration legislation by President Barack Obama, which he has said he'll offer if the Senate group doesn't come to agreement quickly enough, would make E-Verify mandatory nationally, and the Senate group is likely to take the same route.
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