Thursday, May 18, 2006

Regarding Amnesty

In my newsletter article on immigration, I pointed out that some politicians are using the word "amnesty" to argue against certain kinds of immigration reform. I said that the proposal being debated in the Senate at the time, and which now seems likely to pass, does not grant amnesty, but imposes penalties of some kind on all people who have been in our country illegally.

Still, the word is being tossed around heavily by some politicians. Check out the following quote from Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin:
"Regardless of what the president says, what he is proposing is amnesty,"
This is in reference the President's speech on Monday night where he called for illegal immigrants to "pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law" (Note: the link to the speech requires free registration at In large measure, the president's requests are covered by the Senate proposal.

Perhaps it's worth pulling out the dictionary. Here's how the Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines "amnesty:"
"An act of pardon on the part of a government or authority, absolving offenders or groups of offenders."
The way I read this, if there's any penalty issued, the act cannot be amnesty, by definition. It's very frustrating to see this word being bandied about so recklessly. It makes me wonder what the politicians that use it really want. Clearly, they want criminals to be punished. That's fine. We've already been told that simply acting to deport all illegal immigrants is not an option on the table. Such an attempt would prove costly and ultimately futile. Clearly, something else must be done. But what punishment is appropriate to meet the demands of justice? If conservative politicians think that the penalties being discussed aren't severe enough, that's one thing. But what would they suggest? Many are arguing for tougher border patrols. It looks as though this will indeed happen. Still, this will only prevent new illegal immigrants from entering our country (if, in fact, it works). It does not address the issue of what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here. I assume the "anti-amnesty" politicians have something in mind beyond the already-dismissed deportations, or else they're just blowing hot air.

Even still, I'd like to know just how the "anti-amnesty" crowd thinks that the current proposals amount to "amnesty." To use an analogy, a judge might commute a sentence from time served in prison to a monetary fine coupled with community service. While people might argue that the criminal in such an example got off too easily, no one would accuse the criminal of having received "amnesty," since the criminal is still being punished in the eyes of the law. Why is the word being used here?

The only reason I can think of is that the conservatives don't really want any change to happen at all. I don't really believe that this is the case. I believe that conservatives want to see the immigration problem dealt with as badly as anybody (if, perhaps, we disagree on just how to deal with the issue). But I really can't understand the politicians who are so aggressively arguing against "amnesty" here. I'm often told that it's not good enough just to complain about an issue. If I have a problem with a given solution, I am often asked to suggest something better. So that's just what I'd ask of the "anti-amnesty" conservatives. If the current proposal sounds too much like amnesty to you, suggest a different penalty. Tell us what you'd like to see happen. Just what do you want?

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