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May 15, 2006


Looks like a good plan to me. Hilzoy for president! No? Hilzoy for presidential immigration adviser?

Is Vox Day a parody? Writing about deporting immigrants, he says:

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Employer sanctions would help, though I am imagining long fights over who exactly is an "employer" and "employee" (though there is a fairly well fleshed-out common law definition). For example, the guy I paid to redo the basement bathroom in my house. He came in and said he could do it for $X and gave us general ideas. We bought most of the materials, though he bought some things. He did all the construction. Employee? Probably not under my limited understanding, but were he an illegal immigrant, do I suffer sanctions?

Wes Clark had a wonderful tax proposal, and one of its features was that people with straightforward tax situations would just have to enter their earnings and the number of their children or dependents, and that would be that.

I believe this is what Form 1040EZ was supposed to be, though since I don't use it I haven't looked at it so maybe it's more complicated than I'm imagining.

Also note: various typos "ill" for "will" and "petails" for "details." I will stop with my grammar/spell-check duties at some point.

Good post, Hil. Some thoughts:

If you're proposing a National ID card, then you have to argue the point for a fully functional one. You can't just say that you support a National ID card but strictly for purpose X, because before you turn around it will be used for Y,Z, etc. Witness the myriad unintended usages of the Social Security number.

I'm agnostic on the idea of an NID card, but I just wanted to point that out.

I think employer sanctions are the way to go,. I think many if not most illegals immigrants are employed by employers who didn't make a good faith effort to verify their employment status as evidenced by the large numbers who work "off the books". I think that if we made an serious effort to find and strongly sanction these employers then you'd see a lot of undocumented workers go back to their home countries because they'd have trouble finding work.

As for the employers who do make a good faith effort, I propose that they be asked to submit basic information, SSN, Name, Birthdate and Address to the IRS electronically either right before or right after they hire someone. If the person is using forged documents, then the SSN won't match the other information and the INS can either send someone by to investigate or the IRS can simply say that this person's info isn't correct and they're not legal to work.

chuchundra: you're right. Here's what I was thinking:

There is, I think, a division (maybe not a hard and fast one, but a division of some sort) between two kinds of information. One is pretty coarse-grained: your address, your employer, etc. The other is much more fine-grained and detailed: a record of your purchases, or your phone calls, or your TV watching.

I assume that the government has good reason to know a lot of the coarse-grained stuff. My address they need to know for voting rolls, the post office, and so forth; my employer, for my tax forms. The more fine-grained stuff, by contrast, is where I start to mind invasions of privacy, since they allow someone to get a much, much clearer picture of me, my habits, my life in considerable detail.

If this hypothetical card were not used for e.g. purchases or other 'fine-grained' stuff, then I would have no problem with it. And I think it would be possible to have it not be used in that way, for instance by banning its use in commercial transactions, for purposes other than identification, and/or by not setting it up in such a way as to enable it to carry certain sorts of information (e.g., the kinds that would be needed to let it function as a cash or debit card.)

I do think that in an age of serious computing power, the idea that we can't have the sort of database that would allow us to verify someone's citizenship status is just bizarre. Although this appalling story does give me pause. (I may write about it soon.)

If it were a lot harder to get jobs without being a citizen, then the incentives for people to come here illegally would drop.

I assume you mean "without documents," not "without being a citizen."

In the other uses area, I would want a National ID card to be used for voting.

"Is Vox Day a parody?"


How would an ID card be hard to forge? Bars have harsh penalties for serving minors and yet forged driver's licenses are plentiful and pretty easy to make. And the preteen drinking market is far less profitable than the illegal immigrant market would be. It would take a pretty lazy coyote to be stopped by this scheme, and now we have one more way Bush/Hillary/Demon of choice can get their evil hands on us.

I completely agree re employer sanctions. It's just like tax withholding: put the burden on more visible, more easily tracked entities, and give it teeth, e.g., $1000 penalty per illegal worker per day. Remove the economic incentive for employers to hire illegal immigrants, and they'll reduce their hiring.

(They would howl mightily, of course. And no Republican will ever cause pain to business, as GWB has made it clear he will not in this case, but we're talking hypothetically here.)

There would also certainly be downstream effects. Employment among working-class Americans would rise, as would their wages, both of which would be good. Prices also would rise quite noticeably, e.g., of vegetables. (New home prices, I suspect, would not be nearly so noticeably affected.) Price rises might be considered bad, but that's the cost of enforcement and of improving the lot of working-class Americans. (And oh by the way, it could be offset at least somewhat by reduced costs of enforcement.)

Constraining the illegal labor market also gets at another point, which your post makes but I think does not pursue fully:

We should not provide an incentive for people to come illegally.

The problem is, we DO, and no tinkering with naturalization procedures is going to alter it. That incentive is twofold: comparatively gigantic wages, and US citizenship for children born here. We probably will not, and arguably neither could nor should, try to alter jus soli (although in an overheated anti-immigrant climate, anything is possible), but we could at least get at some of the shorter-term incentives.

As to national ID cards, Europeans have had them since, well, forever, and to judge from their (varied) experiences, the cards' mere existence does not seem to automatically degrade civil liberties. And in any case, we already have ID cards; they just happen to be issued at the state level. National ones, like national currency, would simply be harder to forge. It's the laws concerning their use, e.g., when and to whom must you produce them, that are the crux of the issue, and those laws and regulations are already mostly in place (Fourth Amendment, I-9 employment certification, etc.)

One other thought, to really screw up the philosophizing: if an illegal immigrant is clever and determined enough to get here and stay here, I'm not at all sure I don't want him/her here. That is one motivated and talented individual, and if they want to be here and build a life for themselves and others in this country, well more power to them.

Hilzoy -- I think you are misguided about the workability of a national ID card. I suggest you read the following link, and other of Schneier's writings on this topic. The link I show relates to a homeland security purpose for a national ID, but I think the objections he raises are quite relevant to the immigration use.


In addition, I think you can't be aware of how severely dysfunctional our immigration system is. Anyone who has experienced it close up (in my case as an employer, as a sponsor, and as a friend of immigrants) would not criticize anyone for the choice to come her illegally. INS is truly a creation of Kafka. Remember also that many of those in the country illegally are one parent of a family, or an aging mother being cared for by legal children, etc., etc., where, given the alternatives, illegality seemed the only choice.

Helps to actually link.

bemused: I don't think I buy Schneier's argument as an objection to mine. I am not proposing a national ID card for the kinds of purposes he seems to be imagining, and so the fact that they would not necessarily e.g. stop Tim McVeigh doesn't really affect what I said. Nor do I think they'd have to involve a database with a lot of information. (It would be good if they could be accessed by some other databases, e.g. the IRS'.) They probably would need to if they were going to have to, say, encode biometric data, but I don't see that that's needed for employer validation. What we need is something with all the data of, say, a drivers' license, only federal and harder to forge.

The vets of WW II would be rolling in their graves if they knew national ID cards were required. Too many memories of how they contribute to efficient marshalling of people for train rides, etc.

The same things that make the database unworkable for homeland security also apply to a national database for immigration. Do you believe that clerks could not be bribed to issue authentic identity documents just as people now bribe clerks to obtain drivers licenses? Why do you think that a national id would somehow be more unforgeable than a state driver's license, which is routinely forged today?

Meanwhile, all of us would be in a central database explicitly set up to answer frequent questions about our legitimacy. We could all be stopped and asked for our identification where ever we went. After all, what use is an id to stop illegal aliens if it isn't checked? It is truly frightening to me how quickly well intentioned people believe that there is some technological fix to a profound economic and social problem. I am a security consultant who reviews the way companies safeguard customer, employee, transaction, etc. data. I can assure you that it is highly likely such a database would have to be widely replicated. No doubt its custodians would do a heck of a job.

Quick note: I agree with Bruce.

Disclosure: I've known Bruce Schneier, and his wife Karen Cooper, for many years (again, via science fiction fandom). Long before blogs. We've had dinner and dim sum together bunches of times (actually, Bruce and Karen have bought me dinner and dim sum a number of times). Perhaps this biases me. But, then, I'm also biased in favor of Hilzoy, and I've also disagreed with Bruce at times.

But on ID cards, among many other issues, he knows what he's talking about, and they're a purported tech fix that pretty much falls apart when closely looked at, that also carry with them considerable and grave dangers.

Of course, no one has mentioned the law passed the other month ago by the Republicans the Real ID Act, that basically makes state ID cards de facto national IDs, anyway. Hasn't anyone noticed? Why talk as if this never happened?

Before you start singing the praises of ID cards, consider the example of the Pass Laws in apartheid South Africa. It's true that not all South Africans were obliged to carry a pass, but there's no point in pretending that selected ethnicities would not be the ones to receive all the attention today. The fact that you regard ID cards primarily as a solution to the immigration issue demonstrates this.

But even if you think that Pass Laws in the United States would be a good idea, you still need to consider the volume of personal information that the government would need to hold on every citizen in order to make such documents unforgeable (correction, less forgeable). Do you want the state to know that much about you? (Oh, I know, you have nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong.)You also need to consider the probability that an IT project of this scale would be successful, let alone within budget and time.

Start punishing employers... the government should not have to go out of its way to find a perfect ID system so no employer is ever mistakenly prosecuted. The Feds under Bush have made a lax effort to prosecute illegal employers, and could certainly prosecute ten times the number of employers they prosecute now if they invested more time and money into disproving claims of "I didn't know he was in the country illegally."

Once I got a speeding ticket for going 15mph over the limit... and at the time I was unaware of my illegal behavior. Still had to pay the ticket and the higher insurance.

Just fine a few hotel owners, corporate farms, and building contractors and the economic draw into the U.S. will change.

That is, of course, separate from the issue of aid to improve the economies of south and central america. Which would have been a better use of $300 billion than bombing Iraq.

What we need is something with all the data of, say, a drivers' license, only federal and harder to forge.

A lot of people change addresses a lot more frequently than the average bear, and just getting a new state license in the instance can be an enormous hassle. Can you imagine that multiplied by the difficulty factor of involving the Federal government, too? Do we really need a combination of the passport office and the DMV?

Some interesting excerpts from the speech:

For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded.

"Them" refers to illegal immigrants, for now.

We've expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We've expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

Next step is to substitute "conviction" for "deportation."

He did manage to get through a televised speech without mentioning 9/11; though terrorists and terror made appearances.

Although I think that going after employers is probably the best way to decrease illegal immigration, it is also true that doing such a thing by whatever means will make it likely that brown-skinned people who speak accented English will have a harder time finding work.

"That is, of course, separate from the issue of aid to improve the economies of south and central america."

A crucial first step for some countries, such as Colombia and Bolivia would be to stop destroying their economies with our anti-(Some)Drug laws.

Back to Gary and Bruce: the point is that I am imagining ID cards that are for a very different purpose than Schneier. The purpose I'm thinking of is to come up with something that (unlike the present system) makes it possible for employers to check without either being so easily forged that employers who want to hire illegals can just pretend to look at their pretend documents, and thereby does not leave us with the choice of either letting all concerned get away with it, or penalizing employers who have made a good faith effort, or asking employers to undertake massive investigations of anyone they want to hire.

This is a totally different purpose from the one Schneier envisages. In order to be useful the purpose I am talking about, they would not need to be impossible to forge; just hard enough that most people won't be able to get forged ones. This is because (for me) it's not about making us safer (unless in very indirect ways.) For Schneier's purposes. an predictable level of forgery defeats the whole point. For mine, however, a low level of predictable forgery does not.

I also don't really see how a national ID card would lead to anything like pass laws, let alone WWII.

I'm curious why Schneier's argument in the linked article, taken as is, doesn't also argue for the elimination of passports and, for that matter, driver's licenses (as notional ID). Or is he in fact arguing in the breach that we should eliminate all forms of ID?

Hilzoy, I don't see how requiring immigrants to have a "better" ID will make any real difference, so long as employers of illegal immigrants are unprosecuted. The problem isn't that it's too hard for the INS or the employers to check IDs, it's that the laws against employers are not enforced.

I would be all for laws that escalate employer fines with the number of illegals they employ: such as, first illegal employees, $1000; 2nd, $2000, 3rd, $3000. That way, employing 10 illegal immigrants exposes you to fines 55 times higher than the fines for employing 1 illegal.

The ID issues, IMHO, are a distraction from dealing with either the underlying "push" from the economies of Latin America, or the "pull" from American industries that are basically outsourcing without leaving home.

On the national ID card, I have two concerns of a practical nature. The first is in response to the line, "If it were used only for specific purposes, like employment, then the kind of information that the government would have about us would be limited to what it got through those uses." Please recall that the social security number was originally exclusively for tracking earnings to determine the amount of earnings to properly apportion and credit social security taxes to the account. I would suggest careful thought as to how the card and information connected to it could be abused, and appropriate constraints placed upon it.

The second difficulty is children. If a person is required to have a card to prove they're a citizen, then it's likely they're required to do so at all and any time. Children are notorious for losing things they're supposed to keep secured - ask parents of 'latchkey kids' if their children have misplaced the key at some time, and you'll hear a significant number of yeses. Oh, 'reasonably' we'd expect the children to only need it when they do something like registering for school, but since the discussion already mentions emergency rooms...

For some reason, I twitch when I realize we're on the path where a government official demanding, "show me your papers," is legal and in some places quite normal.

"For some reason, I twitch when I realize we're on the path where a government official demanding, 'show me your papers,' is legal and in some places quite normal."

Yeah, we passed that point-of-no-return with Hiibel.

We all lost. (More here.)

Coupla problems:

First, it's not just kids that lose things. Folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum tend to get robbed a lot, and any kind of identity document is prime thief bait. A national ID would need, not just a massive effort to get one for everybody, but a massive ongoing effort to handle lost/stolen cards, changes of address, etc. And, as others have noted, INS (or whatever they're calling it now) is not a shining example of efficient government.

As to the general problems, Britan is currently futzing around with ID cards. The debate is interesting.

Second, the attraction of illegal workers is their illegality. They won't complain. Penalties need to be for paying illegally low wages or having illegal working conditions, not employing illegal workers. We need to give the workers an incentive to turn in their bosses, without getting deported.

Third, Hispanics (including folks whose ancestors have been here since before the first shipload of religious nuts showed up in New England) see the whole immigrant-bashing business as a license to harass *any* Hispanic as a possible "illegal".

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