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What Republicans Get Wrong About Amnesty
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Since when did being a conservative mean also having to agree that some wall with mythical powers could “make America great again,” a la Donald Trump?
Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were very pro-immigration. After all, “legal” immigration is whatever the law says it is. So if the law permits someone who entered the country without permission to eventually obtain her green card and live permanently in the United States, he or she is a legal immigrant.
But now, to be a respected Republican, you need to somehow caucus with Trump and Ted Cruz (and a sometimes squeamish Marco Rubio) and come out loud and strong against “amnesty.”
Let’s be clear on what “amnesty” really is. The simplest and most common definition of amnesty is “a decision that a group of people will not be punished” or “a group of prisoners that will be allowed to go free.” Since we’re not dealing with prisoners, let’s focus on the “not be punished” part.
Anyone who has examined any of the proposals set forth by George W. Bush during his tenure, John McCain and Arlen Specter a decade ago and the Gang of Eight in 2013 would, if they were honest, acknowledge that not one so-called illegal immigrant was going to be getting off scot-free. In the best-case scenario, they were going to have to wait many years before actually becoming lawful residents or citizens, pay fines, learn English and clear the kind of background checks that not even Hillary Clinton could pass.
The proposal of the Gang of Eight was a bipartisan attempt to address head-on an issue that had languished in Congress and at grass-roots levels for years, with no sure resolution. In addition to providing a decade-long process for legalization, it also required certainty that the border with Mexico and the U.S. is secured within five years of its passage. The proposal passed the Senate, but died in the House.
The people who scream about amnesty are being dishonest, because nowhere in any piece of legitimate legislation has there been a “decision that a group of people will not be punished.” Telling someone to pay thousands of dollars in fines, wait many years before becoming legalized, possibly returning home and waiting outside of the country for long stretches or even relinquishing the right to ever become a citizen is not exactly a slap on the wrist.
And people like Clinton, who stuff their rallies with burqas and Latinos and “Dreamers,” are nothing more than panderers using immigrants as a bargaining chip. Then there are the people who actually tried to do something, such as Rubio (who has since backtracked) or Chuck Schumer, who was willing to sleep with the enemy to move the ball forward.
And that, sadly, is all this amnesty talk is. While I will not vote for Hillary or Bernie Sanders, I’m also not going to look at Trump or Cruz or any of the other GOP candidates who exploit, in their own fashion, irrational American fears. The whole idea that refugees are really ISIS operatives waiting to pounce makes for great sound bites, but is statistically fraudulent.
Just last week I had five Central American clients in my law office trying to legally seek refuge in this country. They were doing it legally, because there is a law that gives them that right. They deserve respect.
And unless the GOP candidates realize that, and stop talking about “amnesty,” they are guaranteeing that another Democrat named Clinton will be sitting in the Oval Office come January.
So, run Marco, run. And stop apologizing for one of the things you actually got right.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at