Just as the Associated Press no longer allows its reporters to use the phrase “illegal immigrant,” supporters of the Schumer-Rubio immigration bill have sought to make sure no one calls their bill “amnesty.” And like the AP, which still hasn’t quite decided what to call illegal immigrants, Schumer-Rubio proponents can’t decide what to call their bill, either. At one point the term “path to citizenship” was favored. Now they prefer “earned legal status.” It is all quite Orwellian.
But the words we use are important. And the word “amnesty” is a perfectly accurate description of what the Schumer-Rubio bill does. To see why, let’s take a step away from the heated issue of immigration and look at an area where everyone agrees the use of “amnesty” is proper: taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service routinely operates a number of tax forgiveness programs with official titles like the “Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program” or “Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative.”
The details vary by each program, but the essential elements are always present: an admission of noncompliance, payment of some back taxes and a fine, and a limited time frame to take advantage of the program.
The IRS never calls these programs amnesty, but tax lawyers and the media always do. Here are some examples:
The Wall Street Journal – IRS Amnesty for Employers of Household Help
Reuters – IRS extends tax amnesty deadline to October 15
The New York Times – I.R.S. Offers a Tougher Amnesty Deal for Offshore Accounts
Moving back to immigration, everyone also agrees that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed by President Reagan, was also an amnesty. In fact, Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., own fact sheet says, “The 1986 amnesty was just that – an amnesty.”
So what did the 1986 amnesty do?
It required illegal immigrants to admit they entered the country illegally, pay a $185 fine and back taxes, prove they had arrived in the United States before 1982, and prove they were of “good moral character.” Then, after 18 months and English test, they were given green cards and allowed to get in line with everybody else seeking to become citizens.
Now let's look at what the Schumer-Rubio bill does: illegal immigrants must register with the Department of Homeland Security and admit they entered the country illegally, pay $500 and back taxes, prove that they arrived in the United States before 2012, pass a background check, and then they can become “registered provisional immigrants.” Then, after 10 years, an English test, and another $1,500 in fines, they can get their green cards and get in line with everybody else seeking to become citizens.
Now there is no doubt that the Schumer-Rubio program is harsher than the 1986 program. Schumer-Rubio has bigger fines, a longer waiting period, and an extra “registered provisional immigrant” status between illegality and green card status. But all the essential elements of an amnesty program are still there: an admission of noncompliance, payment of some back taxes and a fine, and a limited time frame to take advantage of the program.
No, Schumer-Rubio is not a “blanket amnesty” program. But neither was the 1986 immigration bill. If it is fair to call the 1986 bill amnesty, then the current Schumer-Rubio bill must be considered amnesty, too.