Immigration Reform Bill Threatens Workers' Privacy, ACLU Says

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Immigration legislation now pending in the Senate and already passed by the House would threaten the privacy of all job-seekers, civil libertarians say.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO on Thursday said they oppose expansion of a pilot project called the Employment Eligibility Verification System, which is intended to help employers determine whether an individual is legally allowed to work in this country.

The system includes a database of job seekers at the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Employers would use the system to look up a potential employee's Social Security number or alien identification number to make sure those numbers are not fraudulent.

The system would require all workers, including American citizens, to get the government's permission to work, critics say.

According to the ACLU, the Employment Eligibility Verification System would create two massive government databases containing "sensitive personal information" on every legal resident.

"Every worker would be registered in the two systems with data files tracking every job they ever sought or held," the ACLU warned. The two systems would combine that information with other personal identifiers, all keyed to a person's Social Security number.

The ACLU called such a system a ripe target for identity thieves.

Caroline Frederickson, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, said not only would it be expensive to expand the Employment Eligibility Verification System (more than $11 billion according to one government estimate), it would also be a threat to privacy.

"The proposed employer verification system would require Americans, regardless of citizenship, to get a permission slip from the government to work. If Congress wants to reform immigration, that's fine, she said; but it "shouldn't use this legislation as a clandestine means to subvert our constitutional right to privacy."

Jon Hiatt, AFL-CIO general counsel, said the proposed electronic verification system "would actually make it more difficult for U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers to secure fair employment." The system leaves workers open to exploitation and discrimination, he said.

Other critics have questioned the reliability of such a system. Would workers be denied jobs because of government database errors?

The Department of Homeland Security has not said whether it supports the mandatory verification provision. But on Thursday, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Chertoff said the federal government arrested 1,187 people on charges stemming from illegal immigration in multi-state raids on Wednesday -- more than the total number of immigration violators arrested in 2005. And it's going to get worse for "systematic violators," he said.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told that he would not comment on whether DHS supports mandatory status verification for all job seekers.

"I'm not going to address a number of the issues we are discussing with Congress in the press," quoted Knocke as saying. "I'll just tell you that we are committed to strengthening work site enforcement."

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who introduced the legislation, said the success of the pilot verification project means the system should become mandatory for all workers.

"I support making this program mandatory because I believe it is one way to turn off the 'job magnet' and stem the tide of illegal immigration," said Calvert. Some immigration reform groups agree with him.

The ACLU noted that some conservative and business groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also have expressed strong objections to the employment verification provisions.

The Senate is expected to address immigration when it returns next week from its Easter recess.

See Earlier Story:
Gov't Going After 'Systematic' Immigration Violators (April 20, 2006)

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