Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Immigration Reform is Eroding the Rights of Citizens

The immigration reform measures being debated in Congress right now are about much more than illegal immigration. One section of the immigration reform bill (H. R. 4437) provides for the verification of the status of all people applying for employment in the United States. Under the guise of controlling the inflow of immigrants and keeping track of “guest workers,” our government will set up a database which will more easily identify who is and is not eligible to work in our country. This will include U.S. citizens as well as non-citizens. Sections 701, 702, and 703 of the House version of the bill stipulate that not only will people applying for jobs be subject to verification, but eventually (within six years of the bill’s passing) all previously hired people in any job will be checked. In other words, anyone who is working at a job will have his or her social security number run through the government database in order to verify whether or not he or she is eligible to work in the United States.

You may be wondering why this measure is any different from the current paperwork you fill out when you are hired at a new job. Currently, when we get a new job, we must fill out an I-9 form and provide our new employer with a copy of our social security card. An I-9 form, you may remember, is a form you sign verifying your legal status to work in the United States--sort of like "your word is your bond." This form is kept on file in your employer’s human resource office. If a question comes up about your status, the government can review the documentation you have provided. With the establishment of a centralized database, however, employers can call a toll-free number and receive instant verification of your identity and employment eligibility status before hiring you. If for some reason the database suspects a fraudulent use of your social security number, the Department of Homeland Security will conduct an investigation. If the investigation does not indicate any fraudulent use, the employer can then feel free to hire you. (The bill contains a provision stating that the federal government cannot be held liable for mistakes that cause you not to be hired.)

(The above summary is based on my brief reading of the very intense bill, and on readings of summaries of the bill that I found online.)

If this system will help the authorities to catch illegal aliens, why am I concerned? If I have done everything right, why do I have a problem with the use of a centralized database? In this age of identity theft, it’s entirely possible that someone could get his or her hands on my social security number and use it without my knowledge. By the time the mess is cleared up and I am proven to have done nothing wrong, I could have been without a job for a while. And that’s the fundamental problem of this system: If a check of my social security number indicates some fraud, rather than being presumed innocent, I have to be proven innocent, and I cannot work until I have done so.

Here’s something else that bothers me: As we have recently learned, the federal government has been collecting our phone records for quite some time in an effort to “to form a database to detect potential terrorist activity,” according to an NPR story. According to a story in the Washington Post, “Intelligence analysts are seeking to mine [phone company] records to expose hidden connections and details of social networks, hoping to find signs of terrorist plots in the vast sea of innocent contacts.” The USA-PATRIOT Act loosened the rules that govern federal surveillance of U.S. citizens, all as part of an effort to identify potential terrorists. Our government can collect all types of information from banking records to lists of books terror suspects have checked out from the library. Judging from the fact that our president has admitted that the NSA has been spying on the phone records of all Americans and not just terror suspects, we can assume that the government is spying on other aspects of all Americans’ lives as well. A report by C-Net reveals that in February of this year a federal judge ruled that under PATRIOT Act guidelines, federal officials may conduct surveillance of a person’s email simply by claiming that “the surveillance could conceivably be ‘relevant’ to an investigation.” This new email spying collects header information—email addresses of all correspondents. How long before all citizens' emails are considered relevant and this information added to the database?

Certainly, records of all Americans’ internet activities will also become relevant. If you will recall, the attorney general, in a speech concerning child pornography, recently discussed the urgent need for internet service providers to keep records of user activity for a “reasonable amount of time” in order “to make sure law enforcement has all the tools and information it needs to wage this battle” against those who sexually exploit children. How long, though, until the “battle” is extended to include those who may be “homegrown terrorists”?

Last week, Canadian police nabbed seventeen “homegrown” terror suspects—people who purportedly sympathized with terrorists, but rather than being foreigners as terror suspects frequently are, were Canadian residents or citizens. Reporting on this story a few nights ago, CBS news stated that U. S. officials believe this incident is “evidence the U.S. will soon be hit again by a terrorist attack. Privately, they say, they'd be surprised if it didn't come by the end of the year” and “they expect the next attack to be the work of homegrown terrorists.” This seems to mean that anyone in the United States is now under suspicion of being a potential terrorist, especially those who express disagreement with the activities of our government.

How does this all relate to the immigration bill? What better way to subdue potential terrorists—people who have expressed disagreement with the government but who haven’t actually done anything—than to flag their social security number and keep them tied up in a long investigation that will keep them from gaining employment, which would in turn prevent them from earning money to finance potential terror activities. Immigration reform is just the hot-button issue that will get many Americans to buy into more government intrusion into our lives, causing us to have to prove our worthiness rather than being presumed to be good citizens.


Tony Arnold said...

Mistakenly flagging a valid SSN is a real concern. It will cause some intense problems for an innocent party.

Having had to work for a year and involve my state senator to clear my name from its "mistaken" inclusion on the TSA Watch List, I am very aware of how mistakes can be made and how hard they are to correct in a system as complicated and bureautic as our government.

Even if the program has merit (big assumption), there would have to be a quick clearing house process to aid those mistakenly targeted. Given our government's record of efficiency, such a quick reconciliation process is not likely.


JMG said...

You're right. And just imagine what would happen if the TSA Watch List were linked to the proposed worker instant verification database. You might have been out of a job for a year instead of simply having trouble flying.

Ayatollah Mugsy said...

Good post, JMG.

Tony Arnold said...

There is no reason not to believe that all Homeland Security lists will be linked together and linked to the immigration list. The only reason it might not happen is the gov't may not be that smart or efficient. Reminds me of my favorite quote by Albert Einstein:

The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny, however, is alleviated by their lack of consistency.

Here are two more gems from Einstein regarding citizens' rational reaction to gov't.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.

In order to form an immaculate member of a flock of sheep one must, above all, be a sheep.

Ironic thought here JMG. Maybe George Bush will be one of the great contributors, catalysts I should say, to producing a wave of great American literature. Look what repressive Russia did for literature in the early part of the 20th century. The pressure of repression has a way of squeezing out diamonds.


JMG said...

Thank you, Mugsy.

Great Einstein quotes, Tony. The first one brings me some comfort--the tyrants' lust for more and more power will lead them to become sloppy.

jettybetty said...

Thanks for your take on this--I really don't understand it all--but you point out some possibly huge problems here. I remain hopeful that our country will go a different direction--but it's getting harder and harder to remain hopeful. I don't even think electing a new president will change that much.