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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Opposes Worker Verification/Identification Proposal: An Alarming Solution to an Overstated Problem FOR RELEASE September 30, 1994 Statement by Ira Glasser, Executive Director American Civil Liberties Union The Commission on Immigration Reform's proposal for a government database and identification registry is extremely disturbing. The Commission risks endangering the civil liberties of millions of Americans in reaction to overheated rhetoric in the debate over how best to deal with illegal immigration. While the Commission may be sincere in its desire to create a rational system for regulating immigration, how exactly does it propose to safeguard privacy, protect against discrimination and prevent this database from being used for purposes for which it was never intended? Under the proposal, the government would collect personal data on all adult citizens and legal residents. This data would be maintained in a central database that would be continually updated and easily accessible to all employers. Whether the Commission issues a new identity card linked to the database, relies on other proof of identity or experiments with some high-tech alternative, it is clearly recommending what amounts to an internal passport system. It is impossible to design a central database that is both easily accessible and, at the same time, limited to authorized persons and purposes. No computer system is fail-safe. The Commission may hope that this registry will not be used to invade privacy, to harass minorities or to facilitate unconstitutional government surveillance, but it is willing to experiment on over 90 million people before it figures out how to avoid those evils. The Commission offers the identification registry as a solution to the well-documented discrimination against workers who look or sound "foreign" brought about by the employer sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. But who does the Commission think will be required -- by employers, landlords, merchants, banks, the police -- to prove their right to live and work here? Instead of creating a new tool for discrimination, we should address the failures of employer sanctions directly. The Commission says it is concerned about safeguarding privacy and civil rights. But how would this be accomplished? From our experience with the Social Security card, we have learned that statutory safeguards on improper use can too easily be eliminated or ignored. If the Commission on Immigration Reform were serious about civil liberties, it would condition its proposal on the adoption of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy. Finally, the ACLU is troubled by the undemocratic process by which the Commission proposes to execute this proposal -- bypassing Congress and calling instead for an executive order. A proposal with such far-reaching implications is clearly a matter for thoughtful public discussion and thorough congressional debate." ACLU Opposes Worker Verification Registry: Proposal is Built on A Foundation of Quicksand Statement of Lucas Guttentag, Director ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project The Commission on Immigration Reform's proposal for a government database and identification registry is disturbing not only because it poses a threat to fundamental civil liberties, but for practical reasons as well. It is built on a foundation of quicksand -- the Immigration and Naturalization Service's data files. Based on our direct experience in litigation against the INS about its computer systems, the American Civil Liberties Union has found that the system is so incomplete, inaccurate and chaotic that it is a meaningless measure of who is entitled to work or live in the United States. Yet the Commission would create a registry that relies exclusively on data collected and maintained by the INS and the Social Security Administration. This is a recipe for disaster. The Commission itself acknowledges the need for improvement in INS' recordkeeping, but underestimates the extent of the problem. In fact, the INS is notorious for inexcusable bureaucratic bungling and ineptitude. In Los Angeles, for example, the INS routinely denies employment authorization to eligible asylum applicants because their names are missing from the INS computer file. A high-ranking INS official recently admitted that over 60,000 files had been "lost out in space" and never entered into the system. Only a day before the Commission presented its testimony to Congress, the ACLU filed suit to prohibit the INS from denying work authorizations to eligible applicants based on this deficient data. The INS is unable to locate information even when it has been collected and computerized. For example, in 1991 we obtained copies of INS computer discs created to identify and track 50,000 people covered by the settlement of a lawsuit. Our computer expert explained in a sworn statement that the data were virtually useless because of rampant errors that rendered a search by name or "alien number" impossible. Even if all INS data could be cleaned up -- a massive undertaking that we agree is long overdue -- the Service has a long and painful history of failure in the maintenance of its files. We have learned, for example, that the INS fails to enter changes of address and that change of address notices are routinely thrown away, making it impossible for applicants to prove they sent them in. INS' incompetent recordkeeping even prevents it from accurately tracking fees it is supposed to collect. We learned last summer that in the course of entering data on 89,000 cases in its Green Card Replacement Program, the Service had failed to distinguish between people who paid the $70 fee and those who did not. The Commission on Immigration Reform's proposal, based on a national registry using INS data, is ill-informed, misguided and irresponsible. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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