Show Your Papers — But What Papers? That’s a Good Question


Gentlemen, grab your wallets. Ladies, look in your billfold. See the spots there for credit cards and your driver’s license? I bet there’s room for one more card in there, right? I propose we fill it with a national ID card.

Now, wait, before you decide I’m some sort of proponent for a police state, take a deep breath. Hear me out.

Don’t think of it in terms of, “A tool for social control,” as the ACLU consistently calls the idea of a national ID card. Think of it this way: One little card could wipe out a whole host of expensive and needlessly complicated steps. Employers, civil servants, hospital emergency workers and school officials are forced to take in the quest to get a handle on illegal immigration, employment fraud and voter fraud. One card could do it all.

First, let’s not call it a national ID card, because that term has already become politically tinged a bright red hot. Let’s call it an “enhanced Social Security card,” as they did in 2010 in a piece of legislation that is still sitting on Capitol Hill, waiting for pre-election-paralyzed members of Congress to act on it.

The small laminated card would have a chip embedded in it with your personal biometrics: your fingerprint, a scan of your iris, a digital photo of you that would render the card completely useless by others if it were lost or stolen.
The information would not be stored in any database anywhere — it would remain only with you, melded into your individual card.

Some government agencies and major employers already issue these biometric cards to employees. Some 75 million U.S. passports are embedded with biometric chips. As far as I know, no citizen’s world has been set topsy-turvy because they have such a card, and their individual privacy remains un-invaded.

That’s really at the crux of the argument against such a universal card — this vague notion that by accepting the card we will somehow be giving up our constitutionally protected rights to liberty and privacy.

Really? With surveillance cameras dotting U.S. streets and Americans freely giving up their locations via millions of tweets and Facebook messages every day, a little card is going to strip us of something sacred?

Alarmists cry that the card will make it easier for the government to track us. Are they kidding? What do they think a Social Security number does? Or the number on our state-issued driver’s license. Or the GPS signal on your cellphone.

Some critics get convenient amnesia about America’s multiple and very strict civil rights laws, and ominously remind us that the Nazi round-up of Jews was made possible by following the trail of government papers.

Please, ignore the crazy-talk. Sometimes we just overthink things. This can be simple.

With one card, employers would no longer have to rely on the cumbersome and unreliable E-Verify system currently in place to root out illegal job seekers. E-Verify relies on information given by the potential employee — not always truthful — and then has to be matched with Social Security and Homeland Security databases.

With one card swiped through a universally available machine, an employer could instantly tell if an applicant is legal to work in the United States.

With one card, we could ensure those who show up to vote are actually eligible.

With one card, we could lift the burden off hospital workers, school administrators and police officers who have been drafted to act as state-based immigration agents because our national leaders have so blatantly failed to pass federal immigration reform.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding part of Arizona’s law allowing officers to stop anyone suspected of being in the country illegally and ask them, “Show me your papers,” The New York Times ran an op-ed that asked the logical next question: “WHAT papers?” Good question!

Do you carry your birth certificate or proof of residency or Social Security card with you? Would a driver’s license constitute adequate proof? If you think so, then keep in mind in New Mexico, Washington state, Utah and maybe soon in Colorado, undocumented workers can get state-issued cards allowing them to drive — yet they may still be in the United States illegally. So, again, WHAT papers?

One card embedded with the owner’s unique identifiers could satisfy that request. We Americans do tend to “what if” ourselves into paralysis sometimes.
What if it costs a lot to produce such a national card? Well, it will. We’re a big country. But look at what could be saved with an “enhanced Social Security card” in terms of E-Verify transactions and countless worker hours wasted on the willy-nilly patchwork of checks we have now.

What if a hacker gets ahold of our biometrics information? It can’t happen under the current proposal since none of it will go into a database. You’d be better off worrying about current identity theft threats, which seem rampant.

What if we do nothing? Then we’ll remain in this immigration morass and have unanswered questions about our voter rolls for years to come.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at or reach her via email [email protected].

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