Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Amnesty By Any Other Name

An amnesty is defined by dictionary.com as "a general pardon granted by a government." A pardon is defined as "To release (a person) from punishment; exempt from penalty."

There is at least, then, a plausible defense to the "it's not an amnesty" argument if some of the conditions are actual punishments. The proposed legislation required immigrants receiving the pardon/amnesty to pay a $2,000 fine, remain employed for six years, undergo a background check, and refrain from criminal activity. These criteria are not materially different than the criteria which legal imigrants face on the path to citizenship, save for the $2,000 fine; therefore it's difficult to define the proposal as anything other than amnesty. In other words, illegals get to jump in front of the law-abiding and gain American citizenship for the price of a plasma TV. American citizenship for $2,000! Who wouldn't jump at that opportunity?

Russel Wardlow brilliantly summed up the deterrent effect of the meager $2,000 fine:

So here's a good rule of thumb: if a particular "penalty" (presumably meant to dissuade people from enagaging in the undesired conduct) is viewed by every member of its intended audience as the best bargain of their lives, it's probably not useful to consider it a penalty.

Beyond the relative political advantages and disadvantages of the word amnesty (the American people are supposedly viscerally opposed to any amnesty), the proposal's label doesn't matter, its likely effects do. If it looks, sounds, and smells like amnesty, it's amensty. How isn't the proposal a reward for breaking our immigration laws? And in my mind more importantly, how isn't this proposal a slap in the face to those stupid enough to obey our immigration laws? Doesn't the proposal encourage future illegal immigration? Mickey Kaus powerfully explained the unfairness of the proposal:

Right, but, again, those in foreign countries "hoping to come to the United State through legal channels" wouldn't have the advantage of working in the U.S. while they waited! Illegals would have that advantage. They wouldn't need to "jump ahead" because they're already getting most of what those waiting in line are waiting for! So they'd still receive a huge reward for having broken the law, compared with those who played by the rules--enough to encourage others, now living abroad, to make the same trip across the border. ... It's like the difference between a) waiting for a restaurant table in the restaurant, eating, and b) waiting outside in the cold. ... How long before the MSM catches on to this?

Call it what you want, but the proposal is subject to the same underlying problems as an outright amensty. The punishment of a $2,000 fine is a sick joke, an insult to every potential immigrant that has been stupid enough to play by the rules. The proposal will, like the last amnesty, encourage immigrants to illegally enter our country rather than follow the legal path.

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