Immigration Reform Isn’t Amnesty

ICYMI: This column is now a weekly feature

After more than two years of Washington focused on short term contrived financial deadlines, our nation’s government is preparing for a different – and significant – policy debate.  Possibly as early as this week, the U.S. Senate is expected to release a bi-partisan proposal to reform immigration laws.

The ability to get the group made of four Republican and four Democratic senators will be difficult enough.  The ability to hold the Republican base as supporters of this bill and those who vote for it will test the party’s new self-awareness of their outreach problems.  It will likely start with an attack on the simple but often misused word associated with any attempt at immigration reform – Amnesty.

Amnesty is defined by Webster as “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” offers “a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction” and “a forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.”

It is important that the cries of “Amnesty” be understood for what they are with respect to what will be proposed.  While details are not yet public, there will not be amnesty.  That is, there will likely be some form of acknowledgement from each person who would apply for a permanent visa that they had violated U.S. law, and a fine will likely be administered.  This is an important distinction because “amnesty” requires forgiveness and forgetting.  Acknowledging an illegal act and facing some consequence as such voids any claim that those who become legal have been given amnesty.

The question, then, is what is an appropriate punishment for those who acknowledge their illegal status?  It is generally acknowledged that there will not be a mass deportation, forced or otherwise.  It is unlikely that Republicans will ever try to thread the needle with an impractical and unsellable concept like “self-deportation” again.  And rightfully so.

Instead, a plan that is rooted in the rhetoric used by Newt Gingrich during the 2012 campaign is more likely to be used.  An understanding that the party of family values will not be seeking to break up families that have lived here for decades will be part of the sale.  Republicans also have one of their Tea Party darlings, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, negotiating at the table among the eight senators crafting the anticipated 1,500 page bill.

Rubio, of Cuban heritage, will be a large part of the Republican sales team.  The reaction to Rubio from the immigration reform hardliners will tell Republicans how big of a problem they have within their base, and whether or not the party will be able to reach out to Hispanic voters in the near future.

For those that believe a fine is not appropriate for violating laws, it would be helpful to remember that not all laws are enforced and adjudicated equally.  We don’t incarcerate people for minor infractions, usually issuing a fine instead.

For immigration reform to be accepted within the Republican base there has to be some ability to frame the crime of coming here illegally as an act similar to that of not much more than a speeding ticket or a civil infraction – Something that a fine is appropriate for the crime.

This will be an easier sell if the rest of the proposal includes a process to secure borders, and an emphasis on granting work visas for those who wish to come here to work, but not accelerating the process for citizenship for those who chose to break the law over those who have been working the lengthy and cumbersome process of citizenship via proper channels.

Democrats are looking forward to moving the debate away from fiscal issues now that their major budget proposals from the President and Senate are focused on new taxes and new spending rather than deficit reduction.  They also understand the issue of immigration will be difficult for Republicans to placate portions of their base while not turning off swing voters and Hispanic voters.

Republican activists need to understand the challenge presented by this issue and the stakes for attaining future majorities in Congress and the White House.


    • John Konop says:

      This is all about wages……Immigration cannot be a tool to drive down wages……our country was
      Based on workers having proper legal rights ie Bill of Rights…….immigration policy must not only guarantee that all immigrant workers pay taxes, insurance… must not be a tool to drive down wages, because at the end we all pay…….

  1. Three Jack says:

    ” the crime of coming here illegally as an act similar to that of not much more than a speeding ticket or a civil infraction – Something that a fine is appropriate for the crime.”

    That line if used by Rubio would likely end any higher political aspirations he may have with far too many in the GOP.

    Good column Charlie, it will indeed be interesting to see how GOP 2.0 reacts when faced with the reality of common sense on this issue. My bet, there will be an outcry against any legislation that makes sense, i.e. admit America needs low wage workers and that there is a consistent supply available from our southern neighbor.

  2. AztlanBuster says:

    If the Dummy Party (GOP) continues on this amnesty jag they will be long gone by 2016.

    This will, in fact, be the 8th amnesty given since Reagan’s “one time only” amnesty in ’86; Politicains are such suck up liars; until we vote on & pass term limits, we are only going to get the same old BS, & people buy in to all the time.

    We don’t need to “overhaul” the immigration laws. We need to enforce the ones that are already on the books; we need to pass a version of E-verify that will be retroactive, allowing it to id illegals already working; it also needs to be mandatory for all US employers, & not just those who are awarded Fed & State govt. contracts; We need to reverse Plyer vs. Doe, the 1982 SCOTUS decision that made provision of free education to the children of illegals mandatory; we need to do away with birthright citizenship (anchor babies); We need to stop providing free legal council & subsidized housing. In short, we need to demagnetize the magnet that brings illegals to the US of A. We DON’T need another “committee of fat, overpaid, overfed politicians & their lap dogs “overhauling” our immigration laws, other than what I’ve outlined above. I guarantee illegal immigrants in Mexico & other places in the world don’t get treated nearly as well as we treat them. This BS in the article is, once again, all about votes. Politicians are worse than plague carrying fleas. The fleas don’t get paid to infect Americans.

    I say build a wall and deport ‘em all.

    • Bucky Plyler says:

      It’s Plyler vs. Doe..and no I didn’t have anything to do with it. (just know how to spell the name) You are right, this is all about votes & it is a broken record. We may not be able to deport all illegal immigrants, but we can certainly enforce the existing laws & control our borders.

      • BajaRat says:

        Plyler v. Doe was the ruling that forces taxpayers to pay to babysit these illegals K-12. Of course now illegals are demanding even more, as usual.

        Glad you didn’t have anything to do with it 🙂

    • xdog says:

      Sorry, I followed your link but I can’t read anything that talks about the Shamnesty Bill.

      Getting an immigration deal done is important to the national gop and especially presidential candidates, but for reps and sens it’s not so important. That’s why I’m thinking for the first time that the gop may not get an IR bill done at all. Too bad for Rubio, who seems to be sincere in work on the bill. Not all his colleagues are.

  3. BajaRat says:

    ….”the crime of coming here illegally as an act similar to that of not much more than a speeding ticket…

    Most traffic tickets are not misdemeanors or felonies… they are infractions. Illegal immigration is a crime:

    Under Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, “Improper Entry by Alien,” any citizen of any country other than the United States who:

    Enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers; or

    Eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers; or

    Attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact;

    has committed a federal crime.

    Violations are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenses can bring up to two years in prison. Additional civil fines may be imposed at the discretion of immigration judges, but civil fines do not negate the criminal sanctions or nature of the offense.

    • Charlie says:

      Crimes are either misdemeanors or felonies. Period.

      Here’s the code on this speeding “infraction” as you call it:

      So, coming here illegally is something punishable for up to six months you say? That’s what we call a misdemeanor, as the jail time is less than one year.

      It would really be helpful if you learned something about the legal system before you try to use it to prove your biased point. Otherwise you might just do what you did above and prove mine.

  4. Ken says:

    For an immigration proposal that might work, I suggest you check out Hard Work-Clean Hands: The Texas GOP has endorsed this plan.

    It seems reasonable and workable. Secure the border is the first step; it’s not a path to citizenship but allows workers without criminal records to stay here and work, pay taxes, receive at least minimum wage and keep in contact with government so that they do not disappear.

    All the details are on the site.

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