"Amnesty," cries our Plano congressman. "Amnesty," cry out the extremist commentators. "Amnesty," cry those who want to lead from a position of fear.
President Obama's executive action, deferring the deportation of certain immigrants, is not amnesty. It is putting their deportation on hold, while the country decides on a fair and lasting immigration policy.
Let's first look at the definition of the word. Our friend Merriam Webster defines it as a decision that a group of people will not be punished or that a group of prisoners will be allowed to go free. Other language authorities go further and define it as a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction.
President Obama issued a spur for Congressional action; his order is only temporary, not permanent. It is a three-year deferral of deportation for a certain group of immigrants who are here illegally, either because they entered without authorization or because they entered with legal documents then overstayed the time allotted by their visas. If Congress doesn't act, or the next president doesn't extend the executive order, then all the people affected by this decision will be eligible for deportation. That is not amnesty by any stretch.
Rather than respond to the words of fear-mongers and those who would boil down complex issues to three-word bumper stickers, it is critical that informed Americans understand the facts about the President's order and about immigration.
There are many parts to the order but the key ones, the ones related to deferring deportation look like this:
Pa Pa rents of U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents who have been in the country for more than five years will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and obtain a work permit. They must pass background checks, pay fees and prove their child was born prior to Nov. 20, the date on which President Obama made the announcement.
The action will expand the Deferred Action program for DREAMers, young people who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and were born after 1981.
There are other parts to the order but these are the ones most often referred to as "amnesty" by certain people. Clearly, the measure only applies for three years at a time, and there is no path to citizenship or permanent legal status, there is no promise that a person can remain in this country indefinitely.
What is most clear is that this is no more a perfect solution for fixing our broken immigration system than adding more troops, posting security cameras along the border and rounding up and deporting 11 million people. It is the most humane stopgap measure and one that respects most basic American value of honoring the sanctity of families. So it applies mostly to parents of US citizens.
Legal immigration to this country is nearly as difficult as swimming a river or navigating harsh desert conditions to get here. In my own case, I can tell you, it was a daunting task. I came to U.S. from India as a student. An employer sponsored me, but took years, navigating the bureaucratic traps and volumes of paperwork, before I got my permanent resident visa (green card).
We need Congress to reform our immigration laws, laws that have been amended but last saw true overhaul in 1965 and then amended in the 1990s; but do not address current day realities. True reform will reduce illegal entries and the need every 20 years or so for a national conversation about how to treat large groups of people who are here illegally.