Amnesty: The Real Solution to Immigration Reform
This paper serves two purposes. The first is to examine why amnesty is the lynchpin (or central factor) for creating sound and responsible U.S. immigration policy and the second is to argue that people who are unconditionally anti-amnesty are obtuse (or to use the word that’s truly fitting: idiots) given the known facts about high deportation costs and near-impossible deportation logistics.
To start with the basics, one should define amnesty in this particular context. U.S. Immigration Support Org. states, “Amnesty for illegal immigrants is defined as a governmental pardon for violating policies related to immigration. Amnesty would allow illegal immigrants or undocumented aliens to gain permanent residency in the United States” (Amnesty, n.d.). In short, amnesty means allowing those who are here illegally to stay in the U.S.
During his last years in office, President George W. Bush put forth an immigration reform bill that would have drastically changed immigration policy in the U.S. Bush’s plan had three main objectives: the first was to provide the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. A clear path to citizenship, the second objective was to reinforce security at the U.S.-Mexican border and the third objective was to create a guest-worker program for U.S. companies wishing to exploit the cheap labor of foreigners. On June 29, 2007 Bush’s plan died on the Senate floor, garnering only 46 of the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill (Amnesty, n.d.)
Why did Bush’s plan fail? There are several reasons, self-centered and indecisive Senators were more concerned with the putative repercussions of voting on a large reform bill during an election year than they were with the well-being of the country, general antipathy for President Bush, and, of course, human pride and vanity, but the main reason Bush’s plan failed, the reason the U.S. does not have a commonsensical and comprehensive immigration policy in place, is due to a sizable faction of Americans and politicians who believe amnesty for the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. is unacceptable and that any immigration bill or plan that proposes amnesty or pseudo-amnesty is unacceptable. Here is a quote from the U.S. Support for Immigration Org., “The bill’s bitter end has a deeper meaning, as it demonstrated that conservative Americans’ vision for U.S. immigration reform should not include any type of amnesty or legalization for undocumented workers” (Amnesty, n.d.). Essentially, the bill died because politicians couldn’t agree upon the issue of amnesty.
William Finnegan of the New Yorker Magazine, discusses this issue in his article “Borderlines” — he writes, “The problem of illegal immigration isn’t a matter of violent criminals storming the walls of our peaceful towns and cities. It’s a matter of what to do about the estimated eleven million unauthorized residents who are already here. The mass-deportation fantasies of some restrictionists notwithstanding, the great majority of “illegals” are here to stay” (2011). He states, rather matter-of-factly, the truth about illegal immigration. And to extrapolate on his point, it’s not so much a matter of higher fences or more border guards (patrol agents) or attempts to stymie violent crime perpetrated by illegal immigrants as it is what to do about those 12-20 million people (the numbers vary, 12-20 seems to be the range that appears the most) who are here illegally, which, of course, makes it the quintessential issue. And it bears repeating, the second part of his point, they are, indeed, here to stay – whether one likes it or not.
If Americans could agree on amnesty, then immigration reform would get passed. However, in order for Americans to agree, one side has to be admittedly “right” and the other side has to be admittedly “wrong” (for argument’s sake and assuming an elemental divide with no intermediary positions). In this particular case, the pro-amnesty crowd is “right” and the anti-amnesty crowd is “wrong.” It’s not a matter of pathos or ethos that makes the pro-amnesty crowd “right,” rather it’s a matter of logos — logic and practicality. Giving those 12-20 million illegals amnesty is the right thing to do because they have a symbiotic relationship with U.S. industry. Finnegan states in his article, regarding illegals, “they are, for a start, essential to large sectors of the economy, beginning with the food supply — the Department of Labor calculates that more than half the crop pickers in the United States are undocumented” (2011). Illegal immigrants provide inexpensive labor to industries that need to keep their overhead low to remain competitive in the marketplace. One can debate the ethical and moral import of this exploitation all day long, but that is a different argument altogether. The fact remains that the illegal workforce serves a critical function for the U.S. economy, they provide cheap labor for positions that are deemed by many menial or undesirable.
If one finds the function they serve to be a tenuous reason for keeping them here and giving them legal rights, then one should consider the cost-prohibitive measures it would take to deport them. According to a cost estimate by Immigrations and Customs, it would cost roughly 94 billion dollars to detain and deport 12 million illegals (Nizza, 2007). This country is 11 Trillion dollars indebt and the current government is running a 1.5 trillion dollar budget deficit (Herszenhorn, 2011). The last thing it needs to do is spend time, money, and resources on deporting a hard-working and important part of the U.S. economy. And this is to say nothing of the logistical nightmare required to round up 12 million people. Consider, for a moment, the possibility that these 12 million people are not living a “static” lifestyle. That is to say, consider the possibility that a percentage of these people have started a family within this country, and now have children who are, by Constitutional law, the 14 Amendment, legal U.S. residents. Who would raise the children of a deported mother or father? If an en masse deportation policy was conceived it would have to address this very real and very complicated issue, and short of amending the Constitution, there would be little the government could do to uproot the lives of millions of families.
Deporting 12-20 million people is unfeasible. The costs are too high, both in terms of the money required to round up illegals and deport them and in terms of the negative impact it would have on industries that rely on cheap labor. And, as mentioned, it poses all sorts of problems for families that have grown and expanded on U.S. soil. Therefore, the only sensible solution is to draft an amnesty bill that gives these undocumented workers a route to citizenship. Now, the specifics of this amnesty bill could be debated, but it doesn’t change the reality that amnesty — allowing those who are here to stay here — is the only viable solution. Once amnesty is settled, all of the other concerns regarding immigration (higher fences, more agents, future work programs, etc.) can be debated and resolved, most likely with little political friction.
The truth is many people, including those staunch, anti-amnesty people, are aware of these facts. They know that the route to sound and sensible immigration reform hinges on amnesty-based policy, yet despite this they remain obstinately opposed to anything remotely close to amnesty. Why? Well, one can never be sure, but maybe one can find solace in the words of the great Cicero, who said, “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” It’s a grave error to continue to believe, as many do, that immigration reform can be conceived and enacted without an amnesty provision or clause.
Intro: Amnesty is lynchpin issue in immigration debate. People who oppose amnesty are ill informed.
1st Paragraph: Define Amnesty (U.S. immigration.org)
2nd And 3rd Paragraph: explain main reason why past attempt failed; i.e. intractability of the anit-amnesty faction.
4th Paragraph: reinforce amnesty as lynchpin issue, address the reality of immigrants staying in U.S. permanently. (Finnegan qutoe)
5th Paragraph: explain the critical function illegals play in U.S. economy (Finnegan qutoe 2)
6th Paragraph: cost prohibitive-ness of deportation and logistical problems of deportation (NY Times quotes and figures).
7th Paragraph: recap main pts.
Conclusion: people who oppose amnesty are idiots (Cicero quote).
Amnesty. (n.d.). Amnesty. U.S. Immigration Support Org. Retrieved June 5, 2011,
Cicero, M.T. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com
Finnegan, W. (2010, July 6). Borderlines. The New Yorker Magazine. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from:
Herszenhorn, D.M. (2011, Jan. 26). New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from:
Nizza, M. (2007, Sept. 13). Estimate for Deporting Illegal Immigrants: $94 Billion.
New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from:
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