As the House Judiciary Committee takes a piecemeal approach to comprehensive immigration reform, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-4) ensured that the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772) will include language to prevent government surveillance or use of data for any purpose other than employment verification or preventing discrimination or abuse.
The Legal Workforce Act, which passed Judiciary 22-9, requires employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) co-sponsored Rep. Johnson's amendment, which only allows use of personal information to verify employment or ensure the secure, appropriate, and non-discriminatory use of the verification system.
"We cannot fix the immigration system through mass surveillance or a national identity system," said Johnson. "We are not a nation of suspects. The Fourth Amendment is intended to prohibit wide-ranging exploratory searches. That's what my bipartisan amendment is about -- making sure that we protect Americans' privacy while moving comprehensive immigration reform forward."
E-Verify contains information on almost every American, including Social Security numbers, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and immigration information. The tool is swiftly becoming a tool to identify all workers.
"The vast collection of personal information for employment verification creates a clear risk for a national identity system," added Johnson. "Such a database with all Americans' personal information could be easily abused: everyone from law enforcement to landlords would seek access to it. This would substantially diminish the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens."
Rep. Chabot echoed Rep. Johnson's privacy concerns.
"In light of the recent disclosures, I want to thank Mr. Johnson for offering this amendment," said Rep. Chabot. "I appreciate this concerns that we do everything in our power to protect the privacy rights of American citizens."
While Congressman Johnson voted against the Legal Workforce Act because of his concerns with the E-Verify system, he nonetheless introduced the amendment knowing the bill would pass out of committee regardless of his vote.