Recently, the term “amnesty” has been thrown around in political discussions regarding the "Gang of Eight's" proposed Senate immigration reform bill. While supporters have hailed it as a promising bipartisan solution to immigration reform, opponents have accused the bill of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has denounced the bill, saying that this amnesty “actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”
The term “amnesty” is a very loaded word; it implies the immediate granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants — an instantaneous pardon for their years of residence without paying taxes. This is very different from the “pathway to citizenship” the Gang of Eight have proposed in their bill. Within its proposed framework, the plan requires “those who came or remained in the United States without our permission to register with the government” and to submit to a background check and to pay a fine and back taxes to settle their debt to society. This will give illegal immigrants “probationary legal status, which will allow them to live and work legally in the United States.”
Moreover, illegal immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds or who pose a threat to national security will not be able to attain this status, and are subject to deportation. Those who do receive probationary legal status” will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency.” Upon the fulfillment of these requirements, these immigrants can get a green card.
Smith and other opponents of the bill are correct: amnesty for illegal immigrants does compound the problem of illegal immigration; the proposed Senate bill does not. Far from granting amnesty, the pathway to citizenship created by the Gang of Eight sets up a comprehensive system to help the illegal immigrants in the U.S. that are willing to be productive members of society obtain legal status. Moreover, it helps ensure that the immigrants that do obtain legal citizenship are citizens that will be able to contribute to the progress and well being of our nation.
Compounded with the fact that the bill’s pathway to citizenship is contingent on increased border security, the proposed Senate bill on immigration reform shows promise as an overhaul of our nation’s current and flawed immigration policy. The bill successfully sets up a framework to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants to the United States, but also provides a comprehensive method to deal with the illegal immigrants already present in the United States: by filtering the illegal immigrants that will be able to usefully contribute to society from the ones that cannot.
At the end of the day, much of the proposed solutions in this bill is just a framework; it’s up to Washington’s policymakers to use this framework effectively in order to meet the full potential of this bill, and to use this framework to take our nation in the right direction for immigration reform.