Name reform would hurt more than help

Freedom New Mexico

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver recently changed his name, legally, from Chad Johnson to Ocho Cinco. Singer Beyonce Knowles now wants to be called Sasha Fierce. And let’s not even try to track Puffy, Diddy or Daddy, whatever the hip-hop mogul is calling himself these days.

If Michael Chertoff had his way, these famous people wouldn’t be able to get a job. Now imagine the problems that would face millions of less-privileged Americans whose names might have changed over the years.

The Department of Homeland Security secretary has renewed his push to force all U.S. employers to fire any worker whose name does not match his or her Social Security card. Chertoff — an appointed official who shouldn’t have the authority to make such mandates in the first place — had issued the order previously, but a federal judge in California stopped its implementation after several organizations, ranging from civil rights, labor and even chambers of commerce, sued saying the rule was unreasonable and discriminatory.

Chertoff wants to impose the rule to address identity theft. In some cases people have used false Social Security cards to get jobs, and they have been flagged when the Social Security Administration found the name assigned to the number didn’t match the name a worker or applicant gave.

Such cases are a problem, to be sure, but they can’t outnumber the cases in which a person has changed names due to marriage or divorce, adoption, or the simple desire to be known by a different name.

Certainly, people who change their legal status or their name should request new Social Security cards that reflect the change. Many people, however, don’t even think about it until it becomes an issue. To suddenly lose one’s job, and all ability to generate income, until the change is made would place an unreasonable burden on millions of Americans.

Clerical errors made when issuing the cards have gone unnoticed; not catching and correcting the error could now cost a person his job, if Chertoff’s mandate goes into effect.

And it won’t effectively eliminate fraudulent card use. Many people simply adopt whatever name is on the card they have; others have been known to name children after themselves and use the children’s cards.

Most employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers keep those workers off the books anyway; they pay in cash, don’t deduct taxes or provide benefits, and they don’t create employee files. The kind of screening Chertoff assumes just doesn’t occur.

Companies that do maintain employee files generally are trying to work within the law, and the Social Security Administration already alerts them when names and numbers don’t match. They should be allowed, and trusted, to address the discrepancies with their workers and determine the appropriate action, whether it be getting a new card, dismissal if necessary or reporting fraud if it is found to have occurred.

This is yet another case in which the DHS chief’s zeal has gotten the better of him, his mandates don’t allow for real-life exceptions, and his remedies threaten to be worse than the problem.

The court was right to stop this fiat in its tracks. The stall should be permanent.