OK, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" Is Not Amnesty—It's Worse Than Amnesty

Advocates of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" a.k.a. amnesty have been driven underground by the great surge in public support for Arizona's SB 1070. But they'll be back. And the possibility that President Obama will be with them can't be ruled out—after all, everything else he's ever wanted in his life has been handed to him on a silver platter.

In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell wrote, "one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end." There will be a lot of debate over whether or not the various "comprehensive" bills put forth can be classified as an "amnesty". So I'd like to consider here the precise meaning of the word.

Merriam Webster defines amnesty as "the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals."

Initially, immigration enthusiast politicians had no problem using the word amnesty.  During the 2004 Democratic primaries, John Kerry said,

"I supported and was prepared to vote for amnesty from 1986. And it is essential to have immigration reform. Anyone who has been in this country for five or six years, who's paid their taxes, who has stayed out of trouble, ought to be able to translate into an American citizenship immediately, not waiting." [Kerry on the Record: Amnesty is OK, By Dave Eberhart, Newsmax, March 4, 2004]

But, as it became clear that the American people were dead set against amnesty, pro-amnesty politicians began using different words such as "earned legalization," "path to citizenship," and "comprehensive immigration reform."

This is especially crucial to the regrettably large number of pseudo-conservatives. They know their constituency—and donor base—is especially against rewarding lawbreakers. 

Thus recently a group of conservative evangelical leaders including former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University Law School, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement on "Just Assimilation Immigration Policy". They claimed the answer to illegal immigration "is neither amnesty nor mass deportation," but rather a path to "pursuing earned legal citizenship or legal residency" unless they are "undocumented felons."  (I. E. guilty of crimes in addition to illegal entry.)

The evangelical leaders then condemned those who use the word amnesty, stating

"Let us be clear – an earned pathway to citizenship is not amnesty. We reject amnesty. And we ask those who label an earned pathway to citizenship as amnesty to stop politicizing this debate needlessly and to honestly acknowledge the difference." [Evangelical Leaders Unite on Just Assimilation Immigration Policy, Liberty Counsel, May 11, 2010]

Strangely, they do not explain exactly what amnesty is, if it's not a "path to citizenship". 

But others have given a bit more detail.  Republican Senator Lindsey Graham claims that amnesty means "forgiving people, with no consequence," while they will require the illegal aliens to jump through a few hoops. [Political Players: Sen. Graham Sees A "Schizophrenic" State of the Union, Brian Goldsmith, The Atlantic, January 29, 2010]

Alex DiBranco, an editor at change.org sums up this argument:

"Amnesty would just say hey, undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, you can all just keep hanging out, no fines, no background checks, no six years of conditions to be met before you can even become a permanent resident. The current and expected proposals in Congress are far from offering that...

"CIR ASAP [the 2009 Gutierrez immigration bill] would require undocumented immigrants that have contributed to the U.S. (through work, studying, and/or military or community service) to pay a fine and undergo a background check that shows up clean, with no serious convictions, in order to obtain a conditional legal residence. They would then have to wait a full six years before applying for a green card, during which time they need to demonstrate that they have continued to contribute to the U.S., chipped in with taxes, kept crime-free, learned English, and met certain civic requirements."  [Senator Graham: No, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Is Not Amnesty, Alex DiBranco, Change.org, February 1, 2010]

Here I will agree with Dibranco: OK, "comprehensive immigration reform" is technically not an amnesty: It's much worse than amnesty.

Amnesties pardon illegal behavior, but they do not legalize that behavior.  When the IRS offers a tax amnesty, they allow delinquent taxpayers to pay the money they owe without any penalties, but people still need to pay their back taxes.  Similarly, libraries allow patrons to return their overdue books without a fine. But they still need to return the books.

When Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers, the draft had been over for several years.  The equivalent to "comprehensive immigration reform" for draft dodgers would have been if Carter had allowed them to return and not be subject for the draft, while law abiding citizens were still being drafted and sent to war.

The open borders lobby repeatedly creates a false choice between granting legal status to illegal aliens or mass deportations.

Yet from a legal perspective, a deportation is not a punishment.  It is an administrative procedure.  Every second an illegal alien is in this country they are guilty of "unlawful presence" under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and are here in the "improper time or place" under the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

The former bars an alien from legally immigrating to this country for 3 years if they have been here illegally for 180 days or less, and 10 years if they have been here longer.  The latter imposes criminal and civil penalties including fines and imprisonment of up to 6 months for the first offense and 2 years for subsequent offenses.

An amnesty properly defined, would still require illegal aliens to leave the country, but waive the criminal penalties.

In fact, the Main Stream Media has had no problem accepting an amnesty as such in foreign countries.  Malaysia was swamped by illegal aliens, with estimates ranging from 600,000 to over a million.  In 2004, the Malaysian government issued an amnesty of sorts: illegals had 3 months to leave—later extended due to the Tsunami—or else they'd be caned. 

Reuters reported:

"Malaysia has given illegal immigrants one last chance to leave without punishment, an immigration official said on Wednesday, after an appeal from poorer neighbor Indonesia, the home of most of the immigrants.

"Malaysia wants to send home up to a million illegal immigrants, mostly Indonesians working in poorly paid jobs, despite fears many businesses might be crippled by the withdrawal of cheap labor.

"The crackdown would go ahead but each illegal immigrant caught in a national swoop would get a final chance to quit the country, said Ishak Mohamed, director of enforcement in the immigration department, who leads operations against illegal immigrants.

"'The operation is in a 'soft' phase right now,' he told Reuters. 'The approach will be different. Rather than arrest the illegal immigrants, we will advise them to return to their countries of origin and apply for documents from there.'

"Immigration authorities checked 1,497 workers in their first soft operation on Tuesday night, Ishak added, and found that about seven percent had no valid documents at all.

"Facing the threat of jail, fines and, for men under 50, a whipping, nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants left Malaysia under an amnesty during the last three months, Ishak said." [Malaysia dons velvet glove in immigrant crackdown, Clarence Fernandez, Reuters, February 2, 2005]

(Note that, in addition to providing a crystal clear example of a properly-defined "amnesty", Malaysia's policies show that illegal aliens will go home on their own if the government gets tough.) 

All this being said, I am happy to call the policies of Gutierrez and Graham and the Southern Baptist Convention an amnesty.  Americans understand amnesty to mean something that allows the illegal alien population in this country to stay here legally.  Attempts to use the words "comprehensive immigration reform" or any other euphemism are designed to hide the actual policies rather than the technical English definition of amnesty.

With all due respect to Orwell, we can't "bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end" in a Spanish-speaking country. 

"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.