David Addington of the Heritage Foundation published a Backgrounder on immigration late last week while I was on vacation. As Congress picks back up the issue, it is worth noting that Addington provides probably the most detailed definition of "amnesty" that I have seen.
The term “amnesty” is often used loosely with reference to aliens unlawfully in the United States. Sometimes it refers to converting the status of an alien from unlawful to lawful, either without conditions or on a condition such as a payment of a fee to the government. Sometimes it refers to granting lawful authority for an alien unlawfully in the U.S. to remain in the U.S., become a lawful permanent resident, or even acquire citizenship by naturalization, either without conditions or on a condition such as payment of a fee to the government or performance of particular types of work for specified periods. Amnesty comes in many forms, but in all its variations, it discourages respect for the law, treats law-breaking aliens better than law-following aliens, and encourages future unlawful immigration into the United States.
What is clear from the Heritage definition is that every plan out there -- from the Obama plan to the various bipartisan proposals -- amounts to amnesty. Addington concludes:
As Congress moves forward, it should not adopt failed policies of the past, such as amnesty, which discourages respect for the law, treats law-breakers better than law-followers, and encourages future unlawful immigration.
What Addington’s paper exposes is that all this talk about a path to citizenship is a shiny object designed to distract and confuse the issue, which is legal status. The issue is whether we are going to legalize 11 million people as a reward for breaking our immigration laws. In the process, no plan seems to actually fix the problem. We're just going to be doing this over again in a few years.
Congress should go back to basics. Secure the border. Complete the fence. Reform our broken and bureaucratic legal immigration system.
Republicans should change the conversation. It should not be about what we do to those here now, but what we do for those who want to come here, work, and would go home if they knew they wouldn't have to risk sneaking back later. We do need an unskilled worker program. We do need a pathway back and forth to home countries for people who want to work here to support a family back home.
What we don't need is just another mass citizenship giveaway that we're going to repeat in a few years because Republicans will not think strategically instead of tactically.