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The New National ID: Just Say “No.”

Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale MI.  He blogs at

Amidst all the shouting over the health care reform legislation, you might have missed another scheme being cooked up in Congress.  Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are co-sponsoring a bill to “fix” immigration problems by requiring each of us to obtain a biometric national ID.  This legislation would make it a federal offense to hire someone without such a card.  Without such a card, you do not have permission from the government to work.  The sponsors of this bill promise that the government will not store private information.  They also claim that the cards themselves will not contain personal private information (hard to understand, since that’s exactly what a biomarker is).

How should we regard this proposal?  May I suggest “Orwellian?” Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that illegal immigration is a serious problem.  Never mind that the harms of illegal immigration have been grossly overstated.  Never mind that economic study after economic study aftereconomic study aftereconomic study aftereconomic study finds that illegal immigration has on net a positive effect on the U.S. economy.  Never mind that the actuaries who study our social security system find that illegal immigrants are helping to stave off its bankruptcy by contributing billions into the system, and collecting nothing.  Despite all this, it’s clear that there are problems associated with illegal immigration, and it might be reasonable to get a handle on it.

Regardless of how we regard illegal immigration, a mandatory biometric national ID is a nightmarish way to address the problem, and has no place at all in a country of free people.  Is there any reason at all to think that circumstances in which this ID is required would not be expanded, if it is put into place?  Or why it would not soon be connected to national databases?  If this legislation passes, I can’t imagine why the biometric ID wouldn’t eventually be linked to the national databases already called for under REAL ID Act (passed in 2005, but not yet implemented owing to popular outrage).  The biometric ID would also be useful in enforcing the mandatory insurance requirement of our new health care legislation.  To claim this is just “a high-tech version of the Social Security card that citizens already have” is disingenuous at best.  Without the ID, work is illegal.  (I have yet to understand why it should ever be illegal for any person, regardless of citizenship, to do valuable work for another who is willing to pay them for it.) And with it, the potential of the government to expand its control over our daily lives is greatly enhanced.

One also has to wonder what happens in cases in which the ID malfunctions, is lost, or is stolen.  A citizen caught in these circumstances would be unable to work, until the government clears up the difficulty.  Should we expect the government to act more quickly on this than it does with, say, people mistakenly added to its no fly” list? The chance that the Schumer-Graham system will malfunction verges on certainty.  The costs imposed on the victims will be enormous, and the incentives for the bureaucrats in charge to quickly rectify errors will be vanishingly small.

May heaven help us if this “fix” passes.  It will take us that much farther down the road to a fully regimented society, where the peasants must do what the Political Class tells them.  It’s certainly time to tell Congress “Hell no!” on this dreadful legislation.


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