Steve Chapman

The victims can always challenge the decision, of course, but the burden is on them to prove their eligible status to some federal bureaucracy. It can take weeks or months to correct an error. In the meantime, the employer may decide the unfortunate applicant is too much trouble and hire someone else.

"A survey of immigrant workers in Arizona found that a third were fired immediately after receiving a tentative non-confirmation," says the ACLU, "and not one was notified by the employer that they had the right to appeal the E-Verify ruling -- even though that notification is required." So even if the problem is fixed, the damage is done.

It would be bad enough if the immigration bill merely compelled universal use of E-Verify. But it creates another requirement that carries ominous potential. It mandates the use of a new means of verifying identity. Virtually everyone would have a photo in the federal archive, and it would be compared with the photo on the identification you provide, to confirm you didn't steal someone's identify.

Here, skeptics fear, there is more than meets the eye. They regard this provision as a big step toward a national ID card that would be essential for everyone. By requiring a government-approved photo ID to be used for verifying identity for purposes of employment anywhere in America, the measure may effectively create a national ID system -- even as it disavows any such purpose.

Once it has become common for employment, its use could easily expand. Why not use it for voting? For gun purchases? For boarding an airplane? For access to unemployment insurance or other government programs? Social Security numbers originally were not supposed to be used for identification -- yet today they are, all the time.

This new approach may or may not contribute to discouraging illegal immigration. But it's pretty certain that in the end, our sphere of privacy and autonomy will shrink, and government power will grow.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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