Panel Says Jobs Registry Would Filter Out Illegals
By Louis Freedberg Chronicle Washington Bureau 9/94
The government should establish a national employment registry based
on Social Security numbers to determine whether job seekers are in
the country illegally, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
But the commission, headed by former Texas Representative Barbara
Jordan, stopped short of calling for a national identification card
that job applicants would have to show to potential employers.
The proposal drew immediate criticism from a wide range of
immigration and civil rights groups, who said the registry could
violate the rights of those who are living in the United States
Jordan, who was appointed to the commission by President Clinton,
said the computerized database she had in mind would contain the
names of everyone in the United States who has a Social Security
Employers would not have to ask job applicants their immigration
status, but would simply ask for some identification and then check
their Social Security number against the nationwide database.
"We wanted to build on a system that already exists for most
people," Jordan told the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration.
Critics say the current system is unwieldy because 29 different
documents can be presented as proof of citizenship or legal
residence. Many of the documents are easy to forge, and employers
are reluctant to ask too many questions of job applicants for fear of
being accused of discrimination.
Jordan, well known for her stands against discrimination, hotly
rebutted any suggestion that the registry, which would include
information provided by the Social Security Administration and the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, would violate individual
"I would not be party to any system that I felt would lead to an
unwarranted intrusion into anyone's private life," she said.
The commission recommended that the five states most affected by
illegal immigration, including California, immediately begin testing
the best ways to use the database.
"We have recommended a pilot program because we have not reached
consensus on the best way to access the computer registry," Jordan
said. She said the states would test the use of Social Security
numbers alone, and of requiring drivers' licenses and other photo
identification cards, along with the Social Security database.
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would like
to see the pilot program "move ahead right away."
But pro-immigrant groups condemned the proposal as a first step
toward setting up a national ID card, which they fear will be used
against people who sound or look foreign.
"Even by another name like `verification system' or `computer
registry' they are still talking about a national ID card," said
Raoul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council on La Raza in
The American Immigration Lawyers Association said it was "ludicrous
and unreasonable" to verify the "legitimacy of more than 98.5
percent of the U.S. population who are citizens or lawful residents
because of the desire to deny employment to maybe 1.5 percent, at a
tremendous cost to the taxpayer."
Susan Forbes Martin, the commission's executive director,
acknowledged the difficulties of setting up a registry with accurate,
verifiable data. Social Security cards are among the most common
counterfeit documents seized by the INS, and those responsible for
fake cards have found it easy to obtain the Social Security numbers
of people who have died.
Jordan suggested that one way to get around the problem would be to
attach a "unique identifier" to each Social Security card, like a
personal identification number.
Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish
Committee, said he agreed with the aims of Jordan's proposal but
argued that it would "lead to an erosion of civil liberties."
"Any attempt to introduce a worker identification system, even a
pilot program, is unwarranted," said Foltin.
The commission was established under the Immigration Act of 1990,
and is required to submit to Congress an interim report on
immigration policy this year and a final report in 1997. Yesterday
was the first time that the commission had reported to Congress on
any of its deliberations.
Chronicle wire services contributed to this report
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