Immigration reform is far bigger than just immigration. Comprehensive immigration reform would set off a ripple effect beyond the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requiring several federal, state and local government agencies to prepare for a far-reaching set of activities. Creating a road map for new immigration processes and related implementation is essential. But how long is that road and how do we navigate the curves around identity?
What’s After the First Stop in Immigration Reform?
Getting the initial registration and subsequent application process right for the 11 million to 12 million people who currently live in the U.S. in unlawful status is the first stop on the map. If we succeed there, what comes next? Experience with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicants shows that individuals who move from unlawful to lawful status almost immediately turn their attention to other activity that was previously inaccessible to them.
In the case of those going through a comprehensive legalization process, this would certainly include travel outside the United States. (The vast majority of those here in unlawful status have not left the U.S. because they fear — rightly — that if they leave, they will not be allowed back in.) However, it may also include other activities that several different government agencies must be prepared to handle.
It is the applicants’ true and verified identity that will be at the center of these related activities with agencies such as the Department of Transportation, Social Security Administration, IRS and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Identity Will Be a Sharp Curve on Road to Immigration Reform’s Success
In some ways, taking 11 million to 12 million people through a legalization process will feel like having 11 million to 12 million people leaving the Witness Protection Program. Suddenly, there will be large numbers of people accessing formal systems and services in this country who either have no real verifiable data associated with their lives or — worse — have data in place related to a false identity.
How will these people be rectified throughout the U.S. government system and other agencies once they are allowed to live and work legally in our country under their real identities? Can state motor vehicle departments handle large numbers of people coming in to exchange their driver’s licenses for new ones issued in their real names as opposed to ones that might have been issued to false identities? And even if state governments can handle creating a process for such ID “swaps,” will they be compelled to charge the affected individuals with a crime for submitting false information in the first place? What if the fraud was not a victimless crime and another person was harmed because of an unlawful immigrant’s use of false information? Will the identity fraud victims be made whole?
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.