The Senate's draft omnibus bill on immigration reform and border
security is what the military might call a "target-rich
environment." There are so many bad provisions that it's difficult
to determine which is the worst.
One top contender, though, is that the bill would establish a
massive, electronic database that would require every American to
check in with Washington before taking a job.
This must rank as one of the most inefficient, ineffective,
expensive, unnecessary and dangerous proposals lawmakers have ever
come up with.
In a sense, they're engaging in the oldest con in the world -
promising us something too good to be true.
You see, the draft immigration law offers a "silver bullet" to
ensure that people who have entered or remain in the U.S. illegally
cannot get a job.
It would require the Department of Homeland Security to build a
national electronic system that every employer in the United States
would have to use to verify that any person they hire is entitled
to get a job. Yet Congress already knows this idea is unlikely to
That's because the Department of Homeland Security already has
an electronic worker verification system. It is called Basic Pilot,
and a decade of experience with the program illustrates why trying
to shoehorn every employer into an electronic verification system
is a really bad idea.
Congress created Basic Pilot in 1996 as a part of the Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. It was born
along with the Citizen Attestation Verification Pilot and the
Machine Readable Document Pilot programs with the goal of allowing
companies to electronically verify that newly hired employees were
eligible to work.
Participation in the program is voluntary, and although about
6,000 companies are registered, less than half actually use the
Basic Pilot has already shown it doesn't stop illegals from
getting jobs. Most are able to circumvent the system through
document fraud. They often present a valid address, name or Social
Security number as their own. Basic Pilot, however, has never been
able to identify imposters or stop unauthorized workers from
creating false documentation, nor can it hinder employers from
illegally hiring unauthorized workers.
Besides, even if the program worked, it's unnecessary.
Relatively few professions are open to undocumented workers.
They tend to work in construction, not consulting, in agriculture,
not accounting. There's no reason to saddle all employers with the
costs of electronic verification. It would be better to focus on
the employers that habitually (and intentionally) break the law.
Our government can do that with existing information systems.
Basic Pilot is also impractical. The notion that Washington
could take a program that oversees a few thousand companies and
expand it to seven million employers nationwide in 18 months is
Given the often inaccurate and outdated data in Social Security
Administration records and the traditional poor performance of
government information technology programs, chances are that a
small percentage of false records would affect millions of
Americans who have a legitimate right to work. This would also
cause an unacceptable loss of productivity totaling billions of
Meanwhile, it would be intrusive. Basic Pilot has already run
afoul of legitimate privacy concerns.
A national program would have unprecedented problems. Both the
government and employers would have access to massive databases of
information, which would surely tempt some to traffic in identity
theft or exploit data for other malicious purposes.
At the same time, electronic verification of every single U.S.
worker would end up costing a lot. Not only would the
infrastructure of building a technology system that could handle
millions of transactions be expensive, but providing training,
insurance, oversight and redress would take years to implement and
prove incredibly expensive.
Supporters of the bill seem to have accepted an electronic
workplace verification requirement as a trade for granting amnesty
to millions living illegally in the United States. These lawmakers
don't seem too worried about the program's predictable
As soon as the law is passed, they're likely to work to make
sure a national system is never implemented. Here, the history of
the REAL ID Act is instructive. REAL ID requires national standards
for driver's licenses, including a certification that the receiver
of the license is a U.S. citizen or a legitimate visitor, such as
someone on a long-term visa.
Many of the same politicians who support the Senate draft
immigration bill are also trying to gut the requirements of REAL
ID. No doubt the proposed electronic verification system would
suffer the same fate (and deservedly so).
Our country needs immigration reform. But it doesn't need an
ineffective, intrusive and expensive new system to keep track of
James Carafano is a
senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at
The Heritage Foundation and coauthor of "Winning the Long War:
Lessons From the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving