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The Monitor's View

Immigration reform rests on a national worker ID

Obama's pursuit of immigration reform this year must focus on the bipartisan idea of a national worker ID. It would do more than the jobs bill to open up work for the unemployed.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / March 9, 2010

During their day-to-day activities in public, some 10 million people in the United States live a lie. They pretend to be legal residents when they are not.

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It is this corrosive wearing away of the rule of law in America that should be a prime concern as President Obama launches a new effort this month to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

Mr. Obama faces rising pressure from Hispanic activists to fulfill a campaign promise for “comprehensive” reform. They plan a large rally in Washington March 21 to demand action. They know that any bill must start moving through Congress by May to stand a chance of passage this year.

And if lawmakers also fail to provide a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, Hispanic groups plan to punish Democrats in the fall elections. After all, they argue, it is their increasing clout in US politics that helped put Obama in the White House.

The president’s best chance to resolve this issue, however, remains in first showing that government can enforce immigration laws, further stemming illegal border crossings and decreasing the high number of immigrants who overstay their visas. Without rigorous enforcement – that is sustainable for years – any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants would only invite more unlawful migration.

This week, Obama plans to start working on reform with a bipartisan team in the Senate, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham. A key idea coming from the senators is a new ID system to prevent employers from hiring illegal workers.

Such hiring only serves as a powerful magnet for people in other countries, especially Mexico, to risk their lives and break American law to reach the US.

The idea is to require a national ID card for legal workers using the latest technology in preventing fraud, such as biometric data about a person’s fingerprints or the veins on the backs of hands. It would be a different kind of identification system than already exists with a Social Security card or with the federal effort since 2005 to standardize state driver’s licenses. And it would either supplant or supplement a current system called E-Verify, in which employers can check an applicant’s status through a federal database. (For more on the ID plan, click here.)