In order to prove that the person ahead of you in line at the job interview is an illegal immigrant, we are going to have to devise a system that proves that you are not.
That, as much as any bleeding-heart concern for illegals or sweatshop search for cheap workers, has been the barrier to effective reform of an immigration system that really needs it. And New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer is offering a bold step in the right direction by making a fraud-resistant ID system a key part of his plan.
Schumer, a Democrat, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican, have put forward a thoughtful and comprehensive immigration reform plan that deserves the attention of their colleagues, the president and the nation.
In addition to tougher border enforcement, more green cards for educated workers and a stringent path to citizenship for illegals already here, the plan includes what its backers call a "high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card."
That's a widget that would-be workers would be required to produce, and would-be employers would be required to scan, before anyone gets hired. And that's crucial, because there isn't enough barbed wire in the galaxy to close our long borders as long as the lure of off-the-books employment remains for millions with slim prospects back home.
Assuming that such a thing is technically possible, though, the envisioned super Social Security card, embedded with some identifying characteristic such as a fingerprint or iris scan, is going to find tough sledding in Congress.
To many, such a system smacks far too much of the image of a Hollywood Nazi barking "Papers, please." There are also those who see the idea as a violation of a biblical injunction against numbering people.
It is not by accident that people of a certain age can see printed on their Social Security cards the fib "Not for identification." But, if we are to have any hope of enforcing whatever immigration laws we have, the pretense will have to be abandoned, and fraud-resistant IDs issued.
We've been fooling around with an alternative, called E-Verify, that is supposed to allow employers to check a central database to see if the Social Security number offered by a new hire matches the government's records. But it has been shown to be so full of errors, often rejecting people who are clearly native-born citizens, as to be unworkable.
The bill also wisely rejects the cruel pipe dream of ejecting the millions of illegal aliens who are already here, as well as family members who may be legal residents or citizens, in favor of an earned path to citizenship.
Those out to come clean that way would have to confess their crime, pay a fine and back taxes (though they've certainly been paying plenty of taxes already) and become competent in English before they could earn their citizenship.
Demagogues who try to brand such a stringent path as simple "amnesty" may be excluded from the conversation.
Not only would this plan go a long way toward solving a critical problem, it also could help lay the foundation for some real bipartisanship in Congress after the late unpleasantness concerning health care.
On that score, a little amnesty would be a good idea.