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Big Brother is at it again.

A new immigration measure that would require employers to verify - by phone - that new hires are legally eligible to work will soon be debated in the U.S. House.Unfortunately, the phone verification system - referred to as 1-800-BIG-BROTHER by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio - has been gathering momentum since a panel endorsed the concept in the fall of 1994. The House measure would mandate pilot programs to test the proposal, as would a Senate bill. The Clinton administration has already begun investigating the idea.

At first look the proposal seems logical and simple. But take a second look. The plan would have a grave impact on business, on minorities and on civil liberties.

Officials say the system would require access to two databases: Social Security Administration records of names and numbers, and INS data on the work status of aliens. While the Social Security Administration stores names and Social Security numbers, the INS lists people by their immigration numbers and may not include Social Security numbers. Linking the databases would be costly and complicated, and would raise privacy concerns. And, too, there's always the threat of hackers breaking into files and tampering with the information.

Minority groups fear the verification system could be used against workers (legal immigrants) who look or sound foreign.

And on the business side, the system would tie employers' hands by forcing them to get the government's OK before hiring workers.

Proponents say the plan likely would weed out illegal aliens quickly and cheaply. While that may be true, many who advocate such a move are working under false assumptions.

As this page recently noted, a report from the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, showed immigrants are not the threat to the population many perceive them to be. The report notes the total number of immigrants coming each year is a little less than it was at the turn of this century, which means it is much smaller today compared to the total population.

In addition, most foreigners are not taking jobs away from Americans. Instead, they make jobs, often starting their own businesses or creating the demand for new jobs with their purchasing power, the report said.

Certainly, lawmakers should continue to find ways to crack down on illegal immigration with stronger border controls and strict welfare reform, but a telephone verification system is not the way to go about it.