A New Exercise in Futility From the INS : Instead of replacing 1.5 million 'green cards,' we should be issuing tamper-proof ID to stem illegal hiring.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, a Republican, represents Ventura County.

Leave it to the U.S. government to once again create a situation that leads reasonable, rational people to scratch their heads and marvel at a level of lunacy to which precious few can aspire.

Rightly concerned by unacceptable levels of document fraud among immigrants working in this country, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is in the process of summoning 1.5 million resident aliens into INS offices across the country and charging them $75 each for new identification cards, commonly known as green cards.

The desire to combat fraud is well-intended and appropriate, but there's a catch. At a time when the ease of obtaining affordable counterfeit green cards for as little as $25 has been clearly established, the INS is going through considerable effort and imposing considerable cost to reissue virtually the same flawed document.

Through this process, the INS hopes to recall all of the antiquated, paper green cards issued before 1977 and replace them with the "modern" plastic counterparts the agency has been issuing for nearly 20 years. The plastic cards require a photo, fingerprint and signature--all of which have yet to baffle forgers.

This is like Ford or GM deciding to recall millions of cars because of some evident glitch in their design and then sending inconvenienced and irritated customers home with the same faulty vehicle. Corporate executives find themselves banished for these kind of decisions; bureaucrats build careers on them.

What's particularly galling is that the INS is staging a massive operation to reissue Edsels at a time when there is a growing chorus of voices crying out for Lincolns and offering the blueprints that could build them.

Over the past few sessions of Congress, I have repeatedly introduced bills to replace the current INS cards with a counterfeit-resistant version.

But whenever anyone tries to voice the obvious need to protect the integrity of a document now easily forged all over Los Angeles, the sincerity of that concern is undermined by the creepy notion of a "national ID card" and unsettling references to Nazi Germany, "thought police" and storm troopers rousing law-abiding citizens out of bed and demanding to see their papers.

These images can and should be terrifying. But these images also have nothing whatever to do with improving the quality of documents issued to immigrants who want to live and work in this country.

I have never supported the creation of a new, national identification card for issuance to American citizens. The truth is we already have national ID cards--they are our Social Security cards and they function more than adequately.

What I have proposed is simply improving the integrity of a document we currently issue in one specific situation.

It is no coincidence that the landmark immigration legislation of modern times, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, has failed largely because we have not given American employers the means to determine with any degree of certainty whether the immigrant workers they hire have any legal right to be here.

How can we tell employers it is OK to hire one group of people, illegal to hire another and then balk at giving them the tools necessary to know the difference?

As the flood of illegal immigration becomes of increasing concern to both Democrats and Republicans, it would seem that we could take one positive and relatively simple step to ensure that when employers hire immigrant workers, they are able to know precisely with whom they are dealing.

Ironically, at a time when the American government is unable to decide whether a better form of immigrant identification is possible, the nation that provides a good deal of our immigrant population has already used the technology we continue to ponder.

Concerned about possible voter fraud in its recent elections, the Mexican government issued all citizens a voting card that employs several tamper-resistant features, including a photo, a hologram, an invisible bar code and a fingerprint.

As someone who has obtained a counterfeit green card--the same kind available on street corners in Los Angeles and across America--I anxiously await the day when the INS will see the wisdom in rendering that document obsolete by issuing a replacement not so easily obtainable.

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