reform not amnesty

Is immigration reform an amnesty? (Yes)

"Amnesty" is a bad word, so many supporters of comprehensive immigration reform have played oftentimes complicated word games to pretend that "reform" is not amnesty. Those who do that are simply trying to deceive. While we could argue all day long about whether what they support fits the dictionary definition of "amnesty", and arguing over terms may be something that those supporters intentionally try to do, what really matters is how "reform" will be perceived.

And, millions upon millions of people around the world will perceive "reform" as an amnesty. It will send a very clear message to potential illegal aliens that we don't really support our immigration laws and that if they come here and stay long enough they'll eventually get citizenship.

Note that even Arlen Specter and the New York Times have admitted that "reform" is amnesty.

Opponents of "reform" should try to avoid getting into a debate about semantics. For instance, if someone rants about amnesty, a "reform" supporter would latch onto that and simply replay their talking points about "reform" not being amnesty. Instead, opponents should make the point above; most people will agree with the point above and will disagree with someone who tries to pretend that most outside the U.S. won't perceive it as amnesty.

However, the best choice is probably to just avoid the word "amnesty" altogether. Instead, use their word - "reform" - and then show how that "reform" won't work; see the comprehensive immigration reform page for some of the downsides.

There is, however, one group of people for whom any type of comprehensive immigration reform is amnesty: business owners that have knowingly hired illegal aliens. Their workers will be legalized, and - unlike those workers - they won't face any fines. Any type of comprehensive immigration reform will give them a complete pass for their past illegal activity.

But, unless using "amnesty" to make that point, avoid the term. For instance, if you ask a politician this question:

"Why does McDonald's want amnesty so much? Are they in the habit of doing things that increase their wage costs, yes or no?"

They'll latch on to "amnesty" and you'll get a reply like this:

"No one wants amnesty, I don't support amnesty. Under my comprehensive immigration reform plan, undocumented workers will pay a fine and learn English. You see, Lazarus fallacy... immigration tradition fallacy... nation of immigrants.. jobs Americans wont do..."

If you rephrase that question as follows (with the quotes around "reform" expressed or implied), they'll at least have one less thing they can use to avoid answering the question:

"Why does McDonald's want immigration "reform" so much? Are they in the habit of doing things that increase their wage costs, yes or no?"

Politicians are trained or accustomed to using various tricks to avoid answering questions. Don't give them something they can latch on to.

Last modified Jan 5, 2014
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Amnesty supporters Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst battle over definition of "amnesty" - 09/29/14

Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst are battling to become U.S. Senator from Iowa. Both support what most call "amnesty", i.e., both would legalize millions of illegal aliens. So, what to do when your position is basically the same as your opponent? Argue over terms [1]:

Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick mislead, promote bad immigration policy - 01/25/13

In the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick offer "Solving the Immigration Puzzle" (link).

I'll provide excerpts followed by a discussion of how they're misleading and promoting bad policy.

Elizabeth Emken on immigration: weak, GOP boilerplate (amnesty, California, Feinstein) - 09/10/12

Elizabeth Emken is the GOP challenger to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a state that's been greatly harmed by massive illegal immigration.

Paul Ryan is bad on immigration, find out how much (Mitt Romney VP pick) - 08/11/12

Paul Ryan - Mitt Romney's choice for running mate - is on the wrong side of the immigration issue. Not only would he harm middle- and working-class Americans and help the wealthy in direct economic ways, but he'd do the same on the immigration front as well.

Haley Barbour lobbied for Mexican government, now misleads about amnesty - 02/15/11

Mississippi governor Haley Barbour is so bad on immigration that in 2001 he lobbied for the Mexican government on a "mini-amnesty". If you aren't familiar with that government's activities inside the U.S., see that link.

Now that his lobbying activities [1] have come to light, he's responded by misleading about amnesty and promoting very bad policies. From a statement he released in response [2]:

"Before there can be immigration reform, we must secure our borders. Only after that can any reforms be achieved, and those can’t include amnesty... Everybody knows we are not going to put ten or twelve million people in jail and deport them. Once the border is secure, we should develop a responsible guest-worker program and it can’t include amnesty."

1. As it says on the secure the border page, when someone harps on securing the border *first*, you have to ask them what comes next. Thankfully, in his case he's making it clear: some form of legalization program. See #4.

2. He's using the reform not amnesty canard. His "reform" would be perceived by millions of potential illegal aliens as amnesty, no matter what he wants to call it. See that link for the details.

3. He's using the deportations false choice canard, pretending that we must choose between mass deportations and legalization when there are other options, including attrition.

4. The guest worker program he promotes would result in one of two things: either a very large underclass of "second-class non-citizens" akin to the situation of Turkish "guests" in Germany, or some form of "path to citizenship" in which former illegal aliens would eventually be able to become citizens. The last is more likely, and it's certainly the one that the Democratic Party would pull out all the stops to obtain starting from Day One. So, most likely his plan would turn out to have the same effect as amnesty, even if applicants had to jump through a few minor hoops first. See the comprehensive immigration reform and guest workers pages for more.

But, wait, there's more. Barbour's press office has responded to [1] with this:

In their work on immigration issues, BGR [Barbour's lobbying firm] never advocated amnesty for illegal aliens.

Barbour's lobbying concerned Section 245(i) of the Immigration Act (link) which involved allowing certain illegal aliens to adjust their status, i.e., become legalized and get a green card. See the description in [1]. Getting a green card put them on the "path to citizenship". So, word games aside, what he was lobbying for was in fact amnesty.

ADDED: We know Barbour promoted amnesty, but it's important to use his terms if you ever get a chance to discuss this with him. If you ask him about supporting amnesty, he'll do what John McCain and others do: simply deny he supports amnesty. So, that will go nowhere. If you get to ask Barbour a question, it has to be about specific aspects of what he supports and you need to make sure you aren't letting him deflect the question by playing word games.

[1] From this:

According to a Justice Department filing by Barbour's former lobbying firm, The Embassy of Mexico decided to retain Barbour's services on August 15, 2001, to work on, among other things, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for foreigners living illegally in the United States—what opponents of immigration reform call “amnesty.”

“Haley Barbour and I will lead the BG&R team,” wrote Lanny Griffith, Barbour's former business partner, in the filing. According to subsequent filings, Barbour's work included “building support in the legislative branch for passage of a bill related to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” As part of that work, Barbour's firm arranged meetings and briefings with “Senators, members of Congress and their staffs, as well as Executive Branch Officials in the White House, National Security Council, State Department, and Immigration & Naturalization Service.” Barbour's firm charged Mexico $35,000 a month, plus expenses.

At the time, Mexico was seeking an extension of a provision that allowed undocumented immigrants living in the United States to receive legal visas or green cards without returning to their country of origin, provided they pay an additional fine. In practice, the provision generally helped out undocumented family members of legal immigrants or undocumented immigrants who were eligible for visas based upon certain job skills. Without the provision in place, undocumented immigrants who received legal papers had to return to their country of origin, for three or 10 years, before returning to the U.S. The Congressional Research Service estimated that an extension would benefit about 300,000 undocumented immigrants.

At the time of Barbour's lobbying, the 245(i) effort was referred to as “mini-amnesty” in conservative circles.“This amnesty loophole allowed aliens who broke our laws to pay a $1,000 fine and go to the head of the line in front of prospective immigrants who complied with our laws,” opined Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, in a 2002 column.
Among the other supporters of extending 245(i) was President George W. Bush, who had called for an extension of the provision before meeting with then-Mexican President Vincent Fox in 2002. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted out the extension, but in the post-September 11 atmosphere, the extension failed to win approval in the Senate.


John Morton of ICE misleads, says he and Obama don't support amnesty - 08/12/10

Back in 2007, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said that the DHS wasn't "in the business of doing amnesty". Now, the head of the DHS' Immigrations and Custom Enforcement ("ICE") is making similarly false claims.

Meg Whitman highlights how much she agrees with Jerry Brown, still misleads about immigration - 07/16/10

Meg Whitman offers "Americans must come together to address the problem of illegal immigration" (, [1]), which is basically a rewrite of the previous misleading Whitman editorial about immigration. Since the new editorial and the old one repeat the same lines, see that link for part of why she's misleading, and the below for additional reasons.

But, first, here's this admission that should be more than a bit shocking to many of the Republicans who chose her over Steve Poizner (bolding added):

In this race, my Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, has said very little about most issues, including immigration. However, from what he has said, former Governor Brown appears to share many of my positions on immigration. He, too, is against Proposition 187 and opposes Arizona's new immigration law. Former Governor Brown joins with me to oppose (drivers licenses) for illegal immigrants. He has endorsed tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and spoken out against sanctuary cities, and he opposes blanket amnesty that would grant full-citizenship rights without first requiring illegal immigrants to pay a fine and learn English... Clearly, when examining our positions on immigration, there is very little over which Jerry Brown and I disagree.

In other words, she's the same as a Democrat on immigration. If you're a Republican who supports our immigration laws and who opposes amnesty, and you helped nominate Whitman, how does that make you feel?

She then goes on to make the misleading statement that neither she nor Brown support amnesty; she's playing words games as discussed on the reform not amnesty page.

She also supports massive immigration:

If the next great inventor lives in India, China or Mexico today, we should welcome that inventor coming to America legally to create jobs and prosperity here.

Why exactly? Why should we braindrain the world? Isn't it - in the long run - better for us not to braindrain the world? What if, in order to get one inventor we have to allow 100,000 non-inventors to come here; is that worth it? What if those coming here have "baggage" of some kind, such as continuing to be loyal to their countries of origin? Whitman's breezy, blanket policy shows that she hasn't thought about this in depth.

If a segment of our economy has a shortage of American workers, then we should look across our borders for guest workers who can help American businesses succeed by working here legally, but without full U.S. citizenship.

Obviously, with about five workers for every available job, the last thing we have is a shortage of workers. What position would we be in if we had a Whitman-style program now? Would we be able to deport our "guests", or wouldn't the far-left and the Democrats work to keep them here? Considering that's what they're doing regarding illegal aliens, the answer to that is clear. And, what she supports would lead to building up a class of "legalized illegal aliens"; the Democrats and the far-left would try to build them into a power base and their status would cause social problems. And, of course, many of them would have U.S. citizen children making it difficult to ever deport them. See guest workers for more.

Then, this highly misleading statement:

Finally, our doors should always be open to honest and well-intentioned people facing the terror of political oppression in their homelands. Closing our doors to legal immigration would be counter to everything our nation stands for.

The most any political leader wants is a moratorium, and even under a moratorium we'd still allow refugees. Whitman is just trying to mislead people; hopefully no one should be surprised at that by now.

[1] Full URL:

Amy Chance of SacBee misleads about "amnesty" (Steve Poizner's anti-Meg Whitman ad) - 04/10/10

Sacramento Bee Political Editor Amy Chance offers "Ad Watch: Poizner launches largely misleading attack on Whitman" [1]. Referring to a recent anti-Meg Whitman ad from Steve Poizner which claims that Whitman "supports Obama's amnesty for illegal aliens", Chance writes:

"Amnesty" is a hot-button term that exaggerates Whitman's views on illegal immigration. She said in October she supports a policy "where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization." Now she says she was referring to creating a guest worker program.

Read what Meg Whitman said about immigration back in October; she spouted a series of amnesty talking points. Whatever she says she meant, her page about this issue [2] - accessed at post time - says: "Meg is 100% opposed to any form of amnesty. As governor, will advocate for a comprehensive federal immigration solution that secures the border."

That's highly misleading, because the comprehensive immigration reform she promises to "advocate for" is amnesty. Or, at least that's how it will be perceived by millions of potential illegal aliens around the world. Whitman is just playing word games; see the reform not amnesty for a longer discussion. "Fact-checkers" like Amy Chance should tell you that rather than enabling Whitman's attempt to deceive.


Amnesty supporter Meg Whitman misleads about immigration - 03/30/10

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman offers a guest editorial entitled "immigration reform, with respect" (link). Here are some of the ways she's trying to mislead voters. She says:

California has the most to gain from sensible immigration reform, and the most to lose from the failed status quo... While I am a strong proponent of legal immigration, I am 100% opposed to granting amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally.

Whitman has already made it clear that she does in fact support amnesty, she just doesn't call it amnesty. In the quote at the last link she supports a path to legalization via a plan like comprehensive immigration reform. Whitman and others (such as John McCain) just play word games, pretending that the "comprehensive immigration reform" or "sensible immigration reform" they support isn't amnesty; see the reform not amnesty page for a longer discussion.

Too often, the rhetoric surrounding this issue has been overly divisive and disrespectful to Latino American citizens. The country needs to have a thoughtful debate about how we stop the tide of illegal immigration that strains budgets and angers taxpayers. But the immigration debate must take place in a measured way that reflects our national aspirations toward tolerance, hope and opportunity... [then, later on:] Taken together, these steps would make a significant difference in reducing the burdens of illegal immigration without casting unneeded and discourteous aspersions on Latino American citizens and driving them away from the Republican Party.

She's basically calling those who oppose massive illegal activity - including a large portion of the GOP base - racists. By doing that, she's giving more power to far-left racial power groups that also want to smear those who oppose massive illegal activity, such as the National Council of La Raza. Whitman isn't taking on such far-left racial power groups, she's helping them.

As a Republican, I believe it's important to both continue our rich tradition of protecting the rule of law while diligently reaching out to the millions of Latinos who share our values.

What exactly are those values? Per Whitman, they include looking the other way on massive illegal activity and those who've supported it. Whitman would have the GOP reach out not just to those Latinos who support our laws, but also to those who don't support our laws. Whitman isn't drawing a line in the sand; she's including those who think the border is a false construct. She's not drawing the line against extremists or those who hold questionable views.

...To remove [the jobs magnet encouraging illegal immigration], we have to give employers the tools they need to do the right thing, and then we must strictly enforce the law... We also need to crack down through legislation on sanctuary cities like San Francisco that shield illegal immigrants from federal immigration laws.

The amnesty that she supports would give even more power to the far-left and to the Mexican government. Neither of those groups have much use for immigration enforcement. Whitman doesn't explain (probably because she doesn't realize it or doesn't care) how she'd enforce the laws from an even weaker position than the current one.

But the real key to this issue rests in the hands of Congress and the president. The bottom line is we need more federal Border Patrol resources at the Mexican border. The California congressional delegation needs to work together with other border-state representatives to get something done on border security once and for all.

This is "boob bait for Bubba"; see the secure the border page noting that she falls into the camp of those who harp on border security to mask how weak they are on the other aspects of this issue.

I have been criticized for opposing Proposition 187, which was on the California ballot in 1994. It is true that I am opposed to cutting off public education and healthcare services to immigrant children. I do not believe that kids should be punished for the sins of their parents.

No "immigrant children" were involved, only those here illegally; that's probably not an innocent mistake. It would also be possible for her to oppose some provisions of that law while supporting others, and it would certainly be helpful for her to come out against the under-handed way how the law - supported by about 59% of voters - was blocked.

Steve Poizner isn't a walk in the park, but he's stronger on this issue than Whitman. And, since it's rare to find a major candidate who's at least strong-sounding on immigration, it's important for those who care about these issues to support him, even if that only means defending him against Whitman's misleading attacks.

UPDATE: I corrected a couple of typos, including adding the last "only": even if you don't support Poizner you can still defend him against someone who's bad on this issue. Doing things like that is, of course, too nuanced for some.

Mexican consul: "We're not demanding amnesty but immigration reform." (travel boycott) - 03/21/09

A group of illegal immigration opponents including the California Coalition for Immigration Reform are passing out fliers encouraging tourists to visit the U.S. southwest instead of Mexico (link). More on the boycott below, but first:

[Orange County, CA] Mexican Consul Carlos Rodríguez y Quezada disputes the fliers' claims that Mexico urges amnesty, is violent and is a bad neighbor.

"We've always been good friends and good neighbors," he said. "We're not demanding amnesty but immigration reform."

1. Mexico isn't in the position to start "demanding" things, especially something that the vast majority of Americans would oppose if they were aware of all the issues involved.

2. Comprehensive immigration reform is just a euphemism for amnesty, and it would be seen as an amnesty by those Mexicans who are still living in that country, many of whom would come here in an attempt to take part in that or a future "reform".

3. From the U.S. perspective, Mexico hasn't been such a good neighbor. Most Mexicans would probably say the U.S. hasn't been such a good neighbor either. Perhaps we should keep both of those in mind going ahead.

As for the boycott, those quoted in the article are probably correct in that it probably won't be that effective. On the one hand, people should be encouraged to spend more time spending their vacation money in the U.S. And, it would certainly serve Mexico well to get less money from the U.S. On the other hand, we probably don't want one of Mexico's major sources of (legitimate) income to collapse, since it would cause more people to leave there illegally.

Bill Richardson misleads on immigration (again, and again...) - 07/28/07

Not content to simply lie about the border fence or to be a shill for the OAS, on June 12, 2007 Bill Richardson made two misleading statements about immigration:

1. He offered the now-standard "false choice" between a massive legalization plan (i.e., amnesty) and mass deportations. He forgot to mention a third choice: "attrition". Under that plan we'd enforce our current laws in order to encourage many illegal aliens to return home voluntarily.

Bush has forgotten the Alamo - 03/06/04

The Alamo was stormed 168 years ago today.

That's a long long time, and George W Bush has obviously forgotten all about it:

A text of President Bush's joint news conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox on Saturday...

BUSH: Hola, que tal? Bienvenidos.

Mr. President, Laura and I are pleased to welcome you and Marta to Crawford...

I will work to ensure a system of safe and orderly migration. Earlier this year, I proposed a temporary worker program, not an amnesty program, that will offer legal status as temporary workers to undocumented men and women who were employed in the United States when I announced this proposal.

OK, it's not an amnesty. And, illegal aliens are "undocumented." No lie like a Big Lie.

Under this program, America will also welcome workers from foreign countries who have been offered jobs by American employers that no American has filled.

Here's what administration representative Margaret Spellings had to say:

"We do envision that [the Bush amnesty/guestworker plan] would be open to any type of employee and any type of employer, such as nurses, teachers, high-tech workers, low-skilled workers. This is a concept that can apply broadly"

Americans aren't going to be willing to be nurses for $10 an hour, but hundreds of thousands of nurses around the world would consider that a fortune. If an employer advertises a nursing job at $10 an hour, they won't get any Americans to fill that job, and Bush's statement above will be true.

I oppose amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship. This program will match willing workers with willing employers, without disadvantaging those who have followed the law and waited in line to achieve American citizenship.

This new temporary worker program will strengthen both the American and Mexican economies. The United States will benefit from the labor of hardworking immigrants.

The average Mexican immigrant costs $50,000 over his lifetime (taxes paid - services used). That's a transfer from other Americans to his employer. A better statement would be: "Some big corporations in the United States will benefit from the labor of hardworking immigrants."

Mexico will benefit as productive citizens are able to return home with money to invest and spend in their nation's economy.

They've got three years in which to have kids here. If they have kids here, they aren't going home and we aren't going to be able to force them to go home. Sell it to someone else, George.

This system will be more humane to workers who will be protected by labor laws and able to establish their identities. It will live up to the highest ideals of free nations.

Serf labor is not a very elevated ideal.

Mr. President, thank you for the excellent dialogue we had today. Thank you for the leadership you provide for our neighbor and friend. And thank you for being a friend to Laura and me. Bienvenidos...

If this were a movie, it would be a horror movie whose protagonist is a retarded kindergartner and millions of people would be yelling "Georgie, he's not your friend!" at the screen.

Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The question is on the immigration policy. The government of Mexico wanted to know what the date certain would be for this new program, or what proposals you have for temporary immigrants. How do you believe it will affect the upcoming election process?

BUSH: Yes. Well, we just -- the president just discussed the border crossing cards, the issue of the border crossing cards. And he discussed the professional visas. And so we're making progress.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, el Presidente Fox, sir?"

I put forth what I think is a very reasonable proposal and a humane proposal, one that is not amnesty, but, in fact, recognizes that there are good, honorable, hard-working people here doing jobs Americans won't do.

And I certainly hope that Congress takes this issue up, but there's no telling what's going to happen in an election year. So it's very difficult to give a date. The date that matters to me is the date in which I laid out what I think is a reasonable plan, which was in January.

At least if it was President Kerry saying these things he'd have a "D" next to his name.

UPDATE: Sometimes Reuters is useful. Their report is entitled "Bush Gives Mexico's Fox Concession on Borders." (link).