It Is Time for a National I.D. Card

One of the most divisive and controversial issues facing the nation today is immigration reform. There are an estimated 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States, and they not only tax public services but potentially represent this nation’s Achilles Heel in terms of homeland security.  

America’s porous borders have permitted millions of economic refugees to illegally enter this country. The majority of these illegal migrants are Mexicans (only 20,000 green cards are allocated to Mexican nationals each year for legal entry into the United States). This two-way national failure – not only to properly control the borders but also to be able to verify the identities of those living and working in this country – also makes it possible for terrorists and other subversives to set up “sleeper” cells across the nation and operate with little fear of discovery by the authorities. The House passed an immigration reform bill in December 2005, and the Senate is still grappling with the issue – after having failed to reach agreement on procedural ground rules that would permit a bipartisan compromise to move forward. Nevertheless, immigration reform promises to be one of the most heated issues of the mid-term elections this fall, and polls show that a majority of the American people favor some kind of reform, especially strengthened border controls. 

A Permissive Program – With No Penalties Attached 

President Bush has called for a guest worker program that would permit legal residence in the United States, for a defined period of time, to various foreign nationals. The problem with such a program, many law-enforcement authorities say, is that it would not work if it does not include appropriate sanctions for those who overstay their allotted time. Of even greater importance for the enforcement of a guest worker program – and, therefore, control of the illegal immigrant population – contend many observers, is the absolute need to validate a person’s identity. At present, counterfeit Social Security cards and other forms of identification can readily be purchased by illegal immigrants (and by terrorists) for a few hundred dollars in virtually every major city in the United States.   

To address this problem, what is called the “Real” Act was passed last year by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bush on May 11, 2005. That act mandates that, by May 11, 2008, all fifty states and territories, and the District of Columbia, must conform to national standards in issuing drivers’ licenses and/or, for non-drivers, some other type of identification card. All of the licenses and I.D. cards issued must contain not only the standard data, including a digital photograph of the person’s face, on current drivers’ licenses, but also incorporate special features that would prevent tampering, counterfeiting, and/or duplication of the cards or licenses. 

For a person to qualify for a license or I.D. card the state issuing it must verify that person’s legal name and not only his/her date of birth, residence, and Social Security number, but also confirm that the applicant is a legal resident of the United States. The Real Act also requires that all state databases be shared with and made available to all other states. The new driver’s license/I.D. card will constitute, in effect, a national identity card – and that is a major change for the better. However, these state-issued licenses and I.D. cards could and should ultimately be replaced with federal I.D. cards – within a decade, at the most, but preferably earlier. In fact, every citizen or resident of this country – not just those who desire a driver’s license or elect to apply for some other form of government-issued identification – should be issued such a card at birth. As technology improves such cards also could incorporate RFID chips and biometrics information. 

Dangerous Illusions and Harsh Realities 

Privacy advocates, chiefly on the far right and far left, reject the call for a national identity card, insisting that imposing such a requirement on U.S. citizens would be an unwarranted intrusion on their individual rights and privacy. Such quaint notions, however, are obviously out of sync with the realities and risks of the modern world – not to mention the fact that virtually all other nations in the world require their citizens to carry national I.D. cards. Law-abiding citizens already are required to show some form of identification to do everything from boarding an airplane to cashing a check. Except for the individual-rights extremists, in fact, the only people seriously opposed to issuance of national I.D. cards are criminals, survivalists, and those seeking to harm this country and its citizens.   

A tamper-proof national I.D. card would facilitate the requirement that all employers check the legal status of employees, which is one of the more important provisions included in Sen. Arlen Specter’s current immigration-reform bill in the Senate. Such a provision is absolutely necessary to put teeth into any immigration-reform legislation. According to a recent article in USA Today, former Sen. Alan Simpson blames the failure of previous immigration-reform measures (passed in 1986 and 1996) to stem the flood of illegal migrants on “Congress’s past refusal to create a secure system to verify employment eligibility.” It would be a criminal failure – literally – if this country were to make the same mistake again.

Neil C. Livingstone
Neil C. Livingstone

Dr. Neil C. Livingstone, chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC and an internationally respected expert in terrorism and counterterrorism, homeland defense, foreign policy, and national security, has written nine books and more than 200 articles in those fields. A gifted speaker as well as writer, he has made more than 1300 television appearances, delivered over 500 speeches both in the United States and overseas, and testified before Congress on numerous occasions. He holds three Masters Degrees as well as a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was the founder and, prior to assuming his present post, CEO of GlobalOptions Inc., which went public in 2005 and currently has sales of more than $80 million.



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