Redefining the Term “Amnesty”

Thursday, our CEO Mike Needham said that Heritage Action would welcome a discussion about the real meaning of the word “amnesty” and whether the Gang of Eight bill is amnesty.  Amnesty proponents – including some folks who call themselves conservatives – like to parade around telling the world that this amnesty bill isn’t amnesty because the illegal immigrants who would be granted registered provisional immigrant status are penalized and have to jump over “hurdles.”

In a blog yesterday, Mike Needham made things really clear:

The appropriate focus is on the process of acquiring registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status.  This legalization process begins when the Secretary of Homeland Security submits two plans to Congress, a mere six months after enactment, and is open to nearly every illegal immigrant who has been physically present in the country before January 1, 2012.  After acquiring RPI status, formerly illegal immigrants will have legal status in the United States, allowing them to work, live, and travel abroad.

THAT’S AMNESTY, in case anyone was confused.

Do “penalties” and “hurdles” make amnesty not amnesty?

Having to pay $500 to remain here legally for 6 years – which calculates to $7 per month – is not a real penalty.   So, “Not only will illegal immigrants have their slates wiped clean, they will receive a near-immediate benefit as a result of their illegal status.”

To be clear, their slates are being wiped clean.  It doesn’t get clearer than going from “illegal” to “legal.”  

Heritage characterizes amnesty as something that “discourages respect for the law, treats law-breaking aliens better than law-following aliens, and encourages future unlawful immigration into the United States.”

How does Heritage define amnesty?

Broadly, though it “comes in many forms,” it means that an alien who entered the country unlawfully, or who entered lawfully but whose authorization to remain has expired is now allowed to remain here lawfully.  The conditions upon which the transition occurs here can vary, but with any form of amnesty, the illegal alien is now lawfully here. 

In 1986, President Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million people.  The borders were never made secure, and we have 11 million illegal immigrants who are the legacy of the 1986 amnesty.   Supporters of the Gang of Eight’s amnesty are trying hard to make a substantial distinction between what happened in 1986 and what’s happening today with the Gang of Eight bill. Karl Rove claims that the 1986 law “essentially told those here illegally that if they had arrived in the U.S. prior to 1982 and wanted to become citizens, simply raise your right hand.”  Today, Rove asserts, is different because now there are “penalties and hurdles.”

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese under President Reagan annihilates that false claim (sub.req’d):

Well, I was there in ’86. I read that bill carefully. (We did that back then.) And I can tell you that Mr. Rove’s blithe description of the bill is way off the mark.

He continues:

The 1986 act didn’t turn illegal immigrants into citizens on the spot. It granted temporary resident status only to those who could prove they had resided continuously in America for five years. After 18 months, their status could be upgraded to permanent residency, and only after another five years could they become U.S. citizens.

But advancement to citizenship was not automatic. Immigrants had to satisfy various requirements along the way. They had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible.

Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same “penalties and hurdles” set forth by the Gang of Eight. Today they call it a “roadmap to citizenship.” Ronald Reagan called it “amnesty.”

Whether it’s our friends trying to redefine “amnesty” or Karl Rove trying to rewrite history to fit a political agenda, the folks pushing the Gang of Eight’s amnesty are just wrong, and that won’t help advance real solutions to our failed immigration system.  On that note, another wise recommendation from Attorney General Meese is in order: “On legislation as important as this, lawmakers must take the time to read the bill, not rely on others’ characterizations of what it says.”

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