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Card controversy

CNN | May 13, 2005
By Brian Todd

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hiding in the floorboards of pickup trucks, poking through fences, fording rivers -- the methods of entry into the United States are endlessly creative for millions of illegal immigrants.

Methods of staying -- and working -- are equally so, including the purchase of fake Social Security cards.

"Social Security cards right now are a problem. They're a very significant breeder-card for other types of identification. It's very easy to get a Social Security card. Many are issued over and over. There are many more Social Security cards in circulation today than there are people in the United States," says CNN security adviser Richard Falkenrath.

It's a problem that Republican Rep. David Dreier of California believes he can solve.

He's pushing legislation that would upgrade the security of Social Security cards with digitized photos and electronic signature strips on the back. But it doesn't stop there.

The bill would bring much tougher penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants or fail to verify their work-eligibility and would add 10,000 new agents to the Department of Homeland Security to enforce those rules.

"If we see three, four, five really good crackdowns on those employers, especially big companies out there, knowingly hiring people illegally, we're going to see -- sort of like compliance with the Internal Revenue Service. It's not just done out of patriotism. It's done because, you know, you might face a penalty. I think we'll see a diminution in the number of illegal hirings," says Dreier.

Dreier is quick to point out the difference between a secure Social Security card and a national ID card. In principle, it wouldn't be used for identification -- like the new drivers' licenses recently approved by the president.

Others are skeptical.

"Everything else about the card is perfect for identification purposes. There's a name, there's a number, there's a digital signature. It is in many respects a national ID card even though in the card itself it says 'not to be used for identification purposes,'" says Falkenrath.

The card's information would also go into a huge database, monitored by the Department of Homeland Security, which doesn't sit well with privacy advocates.

"What this will do is create an enormous database in Homeland Security that will be used to track individuals and will have far more effect on Americans and their privacy than it will on illegal employment... It's very intrusive and it violates the American ethos that the government leaves you alone," says Jay Stanley of the ACLU.

Despite Dreier's insistence, CNN is told that many in Congress are concerned that this would be some kind of national ID card, which is a very difficult issue, politically.

Groups like the ACLU even join forces with ultra-conservatives against it, because of the "Big Brother" issue.

Because of that -- and a belief that the restaurant, hotel and other industries might resist this, because of the penalties over hiring illegal immigrants -- the chances of this passing are considered "uncertain" at best.