Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Senate proposal and "amnesty"

Those opposed to the Senate immigration proposal use the word “amnesty” endlessly and pejoratively. We are letting lawbreakers off the hook, the argument goes. Since amnesties are a prominent public policy issue in Latin America, I just grabbed the textbook I use in my Latin American politics class for a basic definition: “accused persons are legally forgiven by the government and are thereby made immune from prosecution” (Charles Blake, Politics in Latin America, p. 449).

In Latin America, this refers most prominently to members of the military who committed crimes (or were alleged to have committed crimes) in times of dictatorial rule but who are not put on trial after the return of elected civilian governments. The goal of this concession is to appease the military in the context of a transition from authoritarian rule, or in the Chilean case the idea was (and is) not to overturn the amnesty the military had already given itself. [I won’t even get into whether this strategy is effective, desirable, etc.. for the purposes of this post!]

In statements and interviews, President Bush and others say the Senate proposal (and others like it) does not constitute an amnesty because there is no automatic path to citizenship. In other words, formerly illegal immigrants will be paying their debt to society by paying a fine, leaving the country to apply for a visa, etc. John Kyl (R-AZ) refers to it as “parole” and not amnesty.

Since the immigrant will not be deported, which would follow from current law, opponents call it an amnesty. This is not illogical: in the Latin American case military officers are also immune from current law—they, like immigrants in this case, are treated as a group separate from everyone else.

Unlike those officers, however, immigrants have to pay a fine and do other things that follow from that admission of having violated immigration law. They are not deported or jailed, but neither are they simply immediately “legally forgiven” or “immune from prosecution.” For this reason, I would argue that this is not amnesty, but rather a reduction of the consequences.


Miguel Centellas 9:15 AM  

I've also never understood the objection to more logical/rational immigration laws. From a pragmatic perspective, undocumented immigrants who are currently here are currently here; it's simply more practical to acknowledge that -- and enroll them into the tax system (and provide them w/ legal protections/responsibilities). And for new immigrants, having a more "open" border w/ something like a guest worker program seems like a win-win. It allows a large number of immigrants (and there's a demand for their labor) but we can control who comes in and who doesn't (and there is a legitimate security concern). It just seems like such a prudent strategy.

Anonymous,  10:41 PM  

From the little I have heard this bill doesn't seem to address immigration pragmatically. It doesn't seem very sensable for them to pay a fine only be able to work for 2 years in the US then return to their home country for one year then return to work for a couple more years. I think the only way to reduce the illigal immigration from Latin America is help their economies become stronger.

BTW, in reference to mcentellas msnbc had a story about how some illigal immigrants file for taxes while trying to avoid the immigration office.

Greg Weeks 7:36 AM  

If you were here before January 1, then if you pay the fine, you do not have to become a temporary worker. You would be in line for legal permanent residence.

I am waiting to give too much opinion until I see the bill itself, which as far as a I know has not yet been released.

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