Immigration Bill Much Worse Than ‘Amnesty’

Bipartisan Group Of Senators Announce Major Agreement On Immigration ReformIn the debate over illegal immigration, one word causes consternation: amnesty. One side is adamant that its proposals don’t amount to amnesty, the other insists that they do. But both sides are missing the point. The real question is not whether that word “amnesty” overstates the defects of the bill, but how very much it understates them.

Amnesty raises the question of moral hazard. If we overlook law-breaking not just in occasional individual cases, but systematically and on a large scale, we undermine respect for the rule of law. Still, on occasion an amnesty can be relatively harmless.  If the IRS announced that anyone who has failed to file a tax return for some years can for a stated period of time file without facing charges for breaking the tax laws, little harm is done.

But what if the IRS were to say that the delinquent taxpayer need not pay the back taxes he or she owes? That would be a very different matter: an amnesty doesn¹t mean that you can keep what you stole, it only means that you won’t be prosecuted for having stolen it. Under an amnesty, law-breakers will be treated no worse than those who obey the law–they will be returned to the condition they were in before their offense. But amnesty doesn¹t mean that they can profit from their illegal behavior.

Now let’s go one step further: suppose that the IRS were not only to let tax delinquents keep their loot, but also offer them a large reward for coming forward. That would be moral hazard with a vengeance, because now breaking the law would be more attractive than obeying it. But that is essentially what the gang-of-eight’s bill does. In addition to amnesty (not being prosecuted for breaking the law), it allows illegal immigrants to keep what they stole (residency) and even to get a substantial reward into the bargain (state welfare benefits, and a path to citizenship).

It makes no difference if illegals take longer to get their citizenship than those who come here legally. What matters is not that illegals are treated somewhat worse than legal immigrants, but that they are treated much better than those who have resisted the temptation to cross the border illegally.  The message that the gang-of-eight are sending to them is that their restraint was a bad mistake: they should have broken the law and then we’d have rewarded them for doing so.

Everyone agrees that any reform measure must as a first order of business get control of our borders. But a reform that offers a reward to those who cross them illegally is the best way to lose that control. New illegal immigrants would pour across the borders when they see how well their predecessors were treated. Their numbers are already increasing in response to this bill. Can we really afford to let the world know that we don’t care if immigrants treat our immigration laws with contempt because we ourselves do?

Amnesty is a fuzzy word with overtones of Christian forgiveness: who but the hard-hearted could be against it? That is why it’s important to understand that what the gang-of-eight is proposing goes way beyond amnesty, and that it’s the things that the bill throws in in addition to amnesty that are its really objectionable features.

If we institute a guest worker program that greatly expands opportunities to come and work here, that program would naturally include background checks to rule out those with criminal records. (Yes, breaking the immigration laws really is a crime, one punished with serious jail time in Mexico, for example.) If we were to say that people whose only transgression was illegal entry into the US would still be eligible for the program, that would be a genuine amnesty: people who broke one particular law get treated in the same way as those who did not. Let¹s not misuse the word “amnesty” so that it is made to cover the quite different notion of rewarding and encouraging people who break the law. A real amnesty is worth discussing. Offering rewards for law-breaking is not. A bill that does that should never get a single vote.

John M. Ellis is an emeritus professor and former Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Santa Cruz.

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  • Guest

    Some one is going to have to monitor the guest worker program, because if is not is going to go out of control. Their temporary visas will eventually expire so how would you know they went back home? It will become a cycle like it is now, they will eventually stay and wait for another amnesty. That is going to be a big mess. I know people that are already living here who are legal and they have commited murder in their homeland, and they never got caught so they are living here free. How can they trust the background check they are giving by Mexicos government?

  • AdinaK

    Most significantly, both Demsters & RINOS are equally culpable, and each is aiming to lock up the next assured voter base for decades. This is the beginning and end of their push through of a "law" which is wholly based on illegal constructs. In fact, by seeking it they are undermining an already dire economic situation, but this is of no concern to them either. If not illegal, this part is patently immoral and cynical.

    In any event, under Obama Inc, did anybody expect that the rule of law would EVER be adhered to, least of all when it comes to illegal aliens? –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

  • davarino

    Secure the border first, then we'll talk. The talking part will be how to return the illegals back to sender.

    Thanks Rubio for helping me to make my voting decision in 2016

  • κατεργάζομαι

    Dear Senator Rubio, set that thing down and back away from it or you shall never wash the stink off.

    ……you have already shown yourself to be politically immature, easily manipulated by the wrong politicians, (Lindsey Gramnasty and McCain), you appear Constitutionally squishy, and someone who will betray your base, (Lindsey Gramnasty and McCain), – and a man whom lacks discernment and acts differently once you are on the other side of the Potomac.

    RATHER, this is the perfect climate for Conservatives to scrap the tax code along with the IRS & advance the FLAT TAX! Why is that so confusing?

    BTW, they say tomato juice is the most effective way to remove skunk stink!

    ……it appears you could use a good jolt of lycopene!

  • κατεργάζομαι

    Dear Senator Rubio: ¡Muchas Gracias por nada!

    You sold out American taxpayers & your (former) supporters, making us into Latin American piñatas!

    10 Out of 10 Illegal Aliens Mock and Flaunt American Law.

    In 2010 the 51% Taxpayer spent $113 billion on illegal immigration annually, roughly $52 billion goes toward educating the children of illegal aliens.

    While U.S. taxpayers are spending more now than ever before to educate the children of illegal aliens, the education levels of new immigrants-both legal and illegal-have plummeted relative to non-immigrants since the 1960s.

    The immigration status quo will remain because the Obama administration is focused on winning the Alien vote for the Democratic Party.

    Rubio is aiding his supporters' Statist ENEMY by INSURING their DNC RULE in perpetuity!

    …..FIRST aggressively enforce the existing immigration laws IN GOOD FAITH.

    Senador Rubio, YOU are un pavo absoluto! (an absolute turkey!)


  • aposematic

    The Gang of Eight Senate Immigration Amnesty Bill is nothing less than rampant Treason…period!

  • Marti

    Rubio is just another Obama, just a little more on the conservative side.
    Smooth talker, pretty speech maker, and he has fooled the people of Florida.
    I personally was not trusting him and told my friends who were ga-ga over him I did not trust him from the time he arrived on the scene.
    I told them then, I was leary of his stance on immigration.
    Now they are seeing him for what he is, a RINO!

    • Obama Guy

      Rubio is doing the right thing. He's a fine American. Screw the GOP.

    • Cathy


      Marco Rubio, 2009:
      “I am strongly against amnesty. The most important thing we need to do is enforce our existing laws. We have existing immigration laws that are not being adequately enforced. Nothing will make it harder to enforce the existing laws, if you reward people who broke them. It demoralizes people who are going through the legal process, its a very clear signal of why go through the legal process, if you can accomplish the same thing if you go through the illegal process. And number two, if demoralizes the people enforcing the laws. I am not, and I will never support any effort to grant blanket legalization/amnesty to folks who have entered, stayed in this country illegally.”

    • Cathy

      Republicans accuse colleagues of ‘secretly’ drafting immigration bill, urge ‘transparency’
      Published April 06, 2013

      “We believe it is critical that the public and the entire Senate body be given adequate time to read and analyze the contents of any immigration bill put forth by the majority,” the senators wrote in the letter Thursday to the four Republican negotiators: Florida Sen. MARCO RUBIO, Arizona Sen. JOHN MCCAIN, Arizona Sen. JEFF FLAKE, AND South Carolina Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM.

      “Because the president has failed to lead on this matter, your group has secretly met for months and not consulted with members of the Committee about major changes to our nation’s immigration laws. The time for transparency has come,” they wrote.

      The letter was signed by top committee Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

  • Rdlake

    Dr Betsy McCaughy detailed how the new immigration bill would outsource the education & management of the newly accepted illegals to community organizers.

    She cited sections 2106, 2534,35&36 of the propose bill.

    As ways, congress never read the bills.

  • Jim

    Throwing America under the bus.

  • gsr

    No one is against reasonable levels of legal immigration but our country has gone overboard with incentivizing half the world to immigrate here. It's simply too much. We need a reduction in all forms of immigration for a period of say ten years.

    Mass immigration is being used to grow Big Government and the Democrat Party.

  • Darrell

    I Work in the construction industry and I am always amazed. Everyone claims they do not want illegals here but when it comes to saving you money or getting your deductible covered on an insurance claim you will hire them every time. America is getting exactly what they deserve. IF YOU HIRE THEM OR SHOP WHERE THEY WORK AND BUY THEIR PRODUCTS, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.
    I have lost two businesses because I could not compete with the cheap labor. I have found most people will throw their principles out the window if it saves them money. Its sad but I see it every day