E-Verify vs. a National ID

| Thu Aug. 26, 2010 1:46 PM EDT

MoJo's Suzy Khimm, on sabbatical over at Ezra Klein's place, has a post today that sets out the current state of play on E-Verify, an electronic system designed to prevent employers from hiring illegal aliens. The good news is that the system has gotten better over time: the initial error rate for authorized workers is now only 0.8%, and that error rate drops very close to zero when results are contested. Error rates for foreign-born workers were a bit higher, but this has also improved considerably over the past couple of years. (The full report is here.)

The bad news is that the error rate for unauthorized workers was way higher: about 54%, thanks to identity fraud. But here's what I think is interesting. Chuck Schumer is one of several senators who thinks E-Verify is flawed and needs to be overhauled completely. This is from a report last year about a hearing where Schumer explained the changes he wanted to see:

At the top of the 10-point list was the requirement that the system “must authenticate the employee’s identity by using a specific and unique biometric identifier,” such as a fingerprint. He said that giving workers PIN numbers or security codes would not suffice.

....In addition to a biometric dimension, Schumer said an effective verification system must apply to citizens and non-citizens, require minimal compliance costs for businesses and exonerate employers from liability if they use the system but severely fine or prosecute them if they knowingly hire illegal workers.

....Schumer’s focus on biometrics was endorsed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas and the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. He recommended a “secure, tamper-proof and easily verifiable card” as proof of employment eligibility.

Can someone explain to me how this differs from a national identity card? Longtime readers know that I'm actually in favor of such a thing and am completely unmoved by fuzzy notions that this brings us a step closer to a fascist police state. But that puts me in a distinct minority. It hardly seems likely that Schumer and his colleagues have even a ghost of a chance of getting majority support for this.

Still, I admit that it's interesting that Cornyn, hailing from one of the states seemingly least likely to accept the idea of a national ID, is also in favor. Is it possible that anti-immigrant fervor is actually strong enough to break down traditional American fear and loathing of a national ID card? If this ever gets any real traction, the collective cognitive dissonance from the Tea Party crowd might produce enough steam to eliminate half the coal-fired electric plants in the country. Sounds like a winner!

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