A plan by Senate Democratic leaders to reform the nation's
immigration laws ran into strong opposition from civil liberties
defenders before lawmakers even unveiled it Thursday.
Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation
to carry a national identification card with biometric information,
such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft
of the measure.
The proposal is one of
the biggest differences between the newest immigration reform proposal
and legislation crafted by late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen.
John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym
for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic
Verification of Employment.
It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a
digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization
"The cardholder's identity will be verified by matching the biometric
identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the
identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner
used by the employer," states the Democratic legislative proposal.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil liberties defender often
aligned with the Democratic Party, wasted no time in blasting the plan.
"Creating a biometric national ID will not only be astronomically
expensive, it will usher government into the very center of our lives.
Every worker in America will need a government permission slip in order
to work. And all of this will come with a new federal bureaucracy - one
that combines the worst elements of the DMV and the TSA," said
Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel.
"America's broken immigration system needs real, workable reform, but
it cannot come at the expense of privacy and individual freedoms,"
The ACLU said "if the biometric national ID card provision of the draft
bill becomes law, every worker in America would have to be
A source at one pro-immigration reform group described the proposal as "Orwellian."
But Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has worked on the
proposal and helped unveil it at a press conference Thursday, predicted
the public has become more comfortable with the idea of a national
"The biometric identification card is a critical element here," Durbin
said. "For a long time it was resisted by many groups, but now we live
in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our
"People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to
present identification," Durbin added. "We want it to be reliable, and
I think that's going to help us in this debate on immigration."
Implementing a nationwide identification program for every worker will be a difficult task.
The Social Security Administration has estimated that 3.6 million
Americans would have to visit SSA field offices to correct mistakes in
records or else risk losing their jobs.
Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for
American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the biometric
identification provision "will give some people pause."
But she applauded Democrats for not shying away from the toughest issues in the immigration reform debate.
"What I like about the outline is that Democrats are not trying to hide
the ball or soft-pedal the tough decisions," Kelley said. "It seems a
very sincere effort to get the conversation started. This is a serious
effort to get Republicans to the table."
Reform Immigration for America, a pro-immigrant group, praised
Democrats for getting the discussion started but said the framework
"The proposal revealed today [Thursday] is in part the result of more
than a year of bipartisan negotiations and represents a possible path
forward on immigration reform," the group said in a statement. "This
framework is not there yet."
Democrats and pro-immigration groups will now begin to put pressure on
Republicans to participate in serious talks to address the issue. The
bipartisan effort in the Senate suffered a serious setback when Sen.
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pulled back from talks with Sen. Charles
"We call on Republican Senators to review this framework and sit down
at the negotiating table in good faith," Reform Immigration for America
said in a statement. "This is a national problem that requires a
federal solution and the input of leaders in both parties."
Durbin said Democratic leaders are trying to recruit other Republican partners.
"We're making a commitment to establishing a framework to work toward
comprehensive immigration reform, and I think it's a good framework and
now we're engaging our friends on the other side of the aisle to join
us in this conversation," Durbin said.