When is Amnesty not Amnesty?

© 2009 Thomas W. Goldman & Peter J. Loughlin

The debate has started once again. Congress is holding hearings on what may eventually be a breakthrough in the immigration stalemate. That is, if the economy does not derail the latest attempt to deal with undocumented workers.

The concern on the part of some is that allowing legalization of people who entered the United States illegally, or remained in the United States illegally, after entering with a visa, is unfair to those who have been waiting in line for years. In effect, amnesty penalizes those who have tried to do things the right way.

And, what happened to the Rule of Law? last time around, “amnesty” became a word politicians in favor of a new law avoided at all costs. They argued a new law should require conditions to be put on those claiming entitlement to a new pathway to citizenship. Those against a new law granting status argued this amounts to amnesty, clear and simple.

When amnesty is not really amnesty appears to depend on how much is required of undocumented workers before they can qualify for a legalization process. For example, should illegals be required to return home for a period of time and wait there for permission to reenter properly? Should they be required to speak English, or pass a civics test, or both? Should they have been in the United States for a period of years and be able to prove they paid taxes, even if they have worked illegally?

The task of Congress will in part be to fashion a law that will satisfy the American public that the Rule of Law is important by requiring specific conditions as a part of the legalization process. We feel this is necessary for the process to be fair. We are opposed to an “open borders” approach to immigration and believe that the rules should be clear and immigrants should play by the rules.

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