Registry of Illegal Immigrants Pushed

Article excerpt

IN a report to Congress tomorrow, a federal commission will recommend establishment of a computerized, national registry to try to prevent unauthorized foreigners from working in this country.

The registry, which would compile minimal data on United States residents from the Social Security Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), would be easily accessible to employers, who must ensure that all people they hire are allowed to work.

To former Rep. Barbara Jordan (D) of Texas, chairman of the United States Commission on Immigration Reform, the registry represents "the most promising option for more secure, nondiscriminatory verification" of work status. The commission proposes that the five states with the largest number of undocumented workers - California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Illinois - test the idea first in pilot programs.

The underlying theory is that if it becomes more difficult for illegal aliens to find work in the US, they will stop coming in such large numbers. But civil libertarians and immigrant-rights groups, raising the specter of Big Brother, are geared up to try to squelch the registry proposal.

"There will be no way to guarantee when and how the verification system is used," says Cecilia Munoz, senior policy analyst of the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization, raising one of many objections to the plan.

The US commission, in fact, intentionally publicized the outlines of its proposal weeks ago so that critics would air their complaints and the commission could fine-tune its plan before tomorrow's unveiling to Congress, says Susan Martin, the commission's executive director.

"We have taken very, very seriously the concerns with civil liberties," says Ms. Martin. "We are trying to touch on all the protections that need to be in place."

For example, she says, the registry would be a separate database containing the minimal information a job applicant would need to supply to cross-check eligibility for work - name, Social Security number, date of birth, and mother's maiden name - in addition to information on a person's work status from the INS, if that person is a foreigner. Separate databases help keep curious eyes from peering into information they have no business seeing, say supporters of the plan.

Some civil libertarians argue that the commission proposal would start the US down a slippery slope toward issuance of national identity cards to all Americans, and the potential for excessive government control over people's lives. …