After an internal debate, common sense prevailed and members of the presidential Commission on Immigration Reform recently rejected a proposal for a national identity card for all Americans. But these same members have now endorsed a plan that could end up being almost the same thing as an ID card.
The commission wants to establish a computerized national registry based on Social Security numbers that could be used by employers to verify whether or not a job applicant was an illegal immigrant.That doesn't sound too bad - simply a way to check out the veracity of Social Security numbers. But the mere existence of such a registry would create pressure for it to be expanded and used for other purposes. Already there is talk of cranking in data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and state driver licensing systems.
Civil libertarians are right to fear that such a data base could be the beginning of a national identity register and only one step removed from issuing ID cards - a reminder of the hated South African pass books that all blacks were once required to carry and produce on demand.
In addition, it might result in increased discrimination toward anyone who looks foreign-born.
The federal panel, headed by former Rep. Barbara Jordan, a liberal Texas Democrat, recommends that five states with the biggest illegal immigrant problems - California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas - carry out a pilot program to test such a system.
Laws currently on the books against hiring illegal immigrants are hard for employers to follow since most aliens are able to acquire phony documents for a price. Checking such documents can be time-consuming and frustrating. Many employers simply don't bother and take the papers at face value.
Some cures are worse than the ailments they seek to remedy. If the price for controlling illegal aliens is a growing Big Brother government that curbs the liberties of all Americans, that will be too high a price to pay.