As the arguments about illegal entrants (for clarity, I only call someone an ‘immigrant’ who intends to join the community, not steal from it) continue, the word ‘amnesty’ is bandied about, usually by people who have no sense of the word’s real meaning, especially in an historical context. Simply put, in times past, various rulers and governments have promised an amnesty to certain individuals and groups, in return for certain conditions. This was because those groups could create a condition of great difficulty and expense, so an amnesty was the most productive means for solving such problems. The United States is no stranger to such agreements, as our amnesty to the pirate Jean Lafitte bears witness, or the recent revision of terms between the United States and Pakistan. We do not negotiate with terrorists, but we do make deals with all sorts of people. The question then, is whether a deal should be made, can be made, and if both questions can be answered affirmative, then what sort of deal should be pursued.
Despite the hot polarity of the debate, there is actually a range of possible actions the U.S. government might take, anywhere from the draconian measure of shooting anyone crossing the border in between checkpoints, to the collapse of any resistance and awarding citizenship to anyone already here, which would turn the flow into an absolute flash-flood. Neither of those extremes has any real chance, but they do represent the theoretical ends of the choice. To my mind, the issue has four fronts, which must all be addressed. There is no reasonable argument against building a barrier to border crossings, call it a wall, fence, or whatever. The only argument against such a barrier amounts to deliberately ignoring the security of the nation, and everyone knows it, which is why the Left always casts such discussions as ‘racist hatred’ against ‘immigrants’, rather than a measure taken to protect against invasion by people deliberately breaking the law to enter here.
The second front is to enforce the laws already on the books. The people arguing against the President all too often ignore that this problem has been growing for more than a generation, and would be far less severe if only the laws already passed were enforced. There are pragmatic reasons, of course, why the law is not properly enforced, but the most common problem seems to be the assumption that the responsibility always lies with someone else.
The third front is to arrange agreements with Mexico and other nations to stop encouraging or anabling illegal entry. Time for some of those “frank discussions” we used to hear about Reagan having with the Soviets.
The fourth front is to decide what to do with the twelve-to-twenty million illegal aliens already here in the United States, and this is where Amnesty comes in.
Here’s the thing. If law enforcement wants to go after the illegals in a significant way, they basically have three choices:
1. Take men away from other duties to seek out and detain illegals.
2. Spend money and resources for a “task force”.
3. Spend money and resources on a long-term Fugitive Capture program.
Any of the three is feasible only with significant cooperation between local, county, state, and federal authorities, with significant investment of resources across the board. All would involve a degree of performance degradation in nominal operations, and significant friction with minorities and special interest groups must be anticipated, including possible deliberate obstruction and interference. All would require party discipline on an order not known in modern times to have any hope of success, and any of the three would require considerable political capital. In short, as things stand now none of the three options is operable.
The question then, is how to break the strength of such numbers down to manageable size, and in so doing demonstrate the sort of success which attracts bandwagons, and with them creates the support for stronger measures. The answer to me seems to be a graduated amnesty program. First, let me be very clear that an amnesty is unacceptable if it includes automatic citizenship, or which treats the illegal in a manner superior to the persons who obey the law. To some degree, this would mean improving the opportunity for legal immigrants, but also by clearly naming the limit for an amnesty.
If citizenship is not on the table then, what good is the amnesty? Plenty, actually. It seems to me that now would be a good time for Congress to consider that a resident does not, and should not, enjoy anything like the status of the citizen. A higher income tax rate for residents, no voting privilege of course, automatically stiffer penalties for any criminal conviction on American soil, and additional fees for the use of educational or medical facilities, would create a significant and reasonable advantage for someone to pursue citizenship, which should be strictly enforced on a code advancing American national interests. The resident would still enjoy advantages over the non-resident, such as a right to work and the government should create a sort of Social Security/Medicare program, where the resident could pay a tax just as citizens do (albeit at a higher rate), and have a system for his own return down the road if he stays permanently, and again there is a strong incentive to become a full citizen. Such a program would also allow for the resident to have a number by which he might be tracked and identified; anonymity becomes less and less acceptable, as an excuse or a legal defense.
When the United States offered amnesty to Jean Lafitte, there were specific conditions. Lafitte had to leave American ships alone, he had to promise to work for American interests, and in exchange he was granted his life and freedom. The average American did not need such promises, so the offer can be called reasonable. Letting foreign people know and making sure they understand, that we will be glad to take in immigrants for citizenship and residency, and that we are open to giving everyone a fair chance, takes away the political edge from the people co-opting border security in a vulgar attempt to rebuild their political fortune. It also separates the sheep from the goats, so to speak. If people here illegally are given a reasonable means by which they can elect to leave the United States without difficulty and submit their application for residency or citizenship through the appropriate options, then the only aliens remaining here illegally will define themselves as deliberate criminals or worse, and as such will lose the pretense to any moral right to evade capture and incarceration. Something on the order of Guantanamo without kid-gloves focus on protecting a militant religion would do nicely, I think.
So in summary, this is my idea of amnesty. Sharpen the definitions of ‘citizen’ and ‘resident’, make clear that we welcome all sorts of legal immigrants but must protect our borders and enforce our laws, and offer the chance to start over for people who leave politely and immediately. And make very, very clear that anyone who remains here against the law after than point may expect a stronger and more determined, coordinated response at all levels. But first we have to agree to pick one plan and pursue it. Maybe that means the first ‘amnesty’ must be extended to fellow Conservatives.