Why Can’t Amnesty Come Second?

There were fireworks this week on the floor of the U.S. Senate.  That august body (or once august body) began deliberations on the Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform bill.  Senator Grassley (Republican of Iowa) proposed an amendment that would require that the border be secure for six months before there could be legalization of immigrants who entered the country unlawfully.  Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada, and the Senate Majority Leader) used one of the Senate’s procedural tools to block the amendment by requiring it to get 60 votes.

This led to eruptions of anger on both sides.  Grassley objected, and Reid angrily (or maybe scornfully) noted that the Republicans, as the Senate minority, are fond of using the filibuster, which can only be stopped by a vote of 60 senators.  Grassley angrily responded that the movers of the bill had promised that it would be considered in regular order, and requiring supermajorities right at the outset is not part of regular order.  We must hope (although probably cannot expect) that what begins in such bitterness will not also end in bitterness.


At any rate, the Grassley-Reid wrangling raises a serious substantive question, one that sheds light on why the immigration debate stokes the worst suspicions of a certain segment of American society.  That question is: why can’t amnesty come second, anyway?

Consider how the political ground occupied by the Democratic and Republican supporters of “comprehensive immigration reform” has changed since this issue was last seriously debated, a few years ago, near the end of the Bush Administration.  At that time, as now, it was argued that a comprehensive legislative solution requires both better enforcement, so as to stop future unlawful entry, as well as legalization for those already here unlawfully but who have done nothing else wrong.  Now the ante has been upped.  Now the proponents of this approach insist not only that both must be done in one legislative package, but also that the amnesty portion must come first.  (A point of clarification here: the bill presently debated purports to defer a path to citizenship until after certain security steps have been taken–although there is a dispute about whether those measures are adequate–but also grants a non-citizen legal status almost immediately.)

But why?  Why must it be this way?  Why do the leading sponsors of the bill resist even a flipping of the order of the key elements, when it would be possible to keep both and ensure that both will be achieved?

This is the sort of thing that simply fans the flames of some American’s concerns about “comprehensive immigration reform.”  They suspect that the supporters of the bill insist on this order because they–some of our leading statesmen–don’t think that effective border security will ever materialize.  They either don’t really want it, or they don’t think it can be realistically achieved.  But if that is the case, why will there not be need for another amnesty in another 25, or even 15 years?  In sum, a significant share of Americans suspect that a key part of the political class is not serious about immigration enforcement, and they therefore worry that they are being sold a solution that is really a recipe for further problems.

Whether this fear is correct is difficult to say.  But the fear is certainly understandable, and it certainly would be the part of prudent leaders to allay such fears, thus making immigration reform a policy that will unite in agreement the largest possible majority of Americans.  We have already had in the last few years one major reform (the Affordable Care Act) that deeply divided and continues to divide the country.  Another one will further strain public comity.




  • http://Facebook Ann Keindl

    “…A key part of the political class is not serious about immigration enforcement.” I am not sure what you mean by “political class.” I am an American, Catholic Voter. I do not choose to take seriously illegal immigration (right now). Our immigration laws are in place. As Catholics, we are still fighting a 40 year old battle against abortion in this country and the worldwide genocide of unborn babies. Social Justice cannot happen until the right for life is won. If there is no respect for life from conception to natural death-there is no need for Social Justice. CV and the Bishops listed abortion as #1 on the list of intrinsic evils. If our building does not have the grass roots foundation of respect for life – we have no foundation on which to build a future.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    I don’t get it! As a legal immigrant I’m in favor of a high wall, as high as it can be, and then begin the process of helping people already here get a green card by paying fines first, learning the English language, becoming a part of this country, etc. Then, and only then should a process of becoming a citizen be allowed, and only after those who entered the country legally, because in my mind, that is the right thing to do. I also believe that the human rights of every person, whether legal or illegal should always be respected. Such an attitude is in keeping with our Catholic faith. Notice, I do make a distinction between “citizen’s rights,” like the right to vote and “human rights” which we all have a right to because we were all created in God’s image and as such we have a great dignity before God and men.

  • Sarah

    I don’t really understand why blanket amnesty is accepted as the only Christian opion. It seems to me that allowing legal residency for an unlimited time to all current illegal immigrants would be enough to fulfill Christain duties: allow them to escape the horrors of the places they left without penalty, allow them to work and benefit from many public programs, but then require that they take the initiative to go through the same citizenship program that is already used by legal immigrants if they want to vote. Surely if they had an unlimited time to complete the requirements for citizenship and no fear of deportation or imprisonment when they reveal how they came to the U.S. there would be nothing preventing them from using systems already in place.

  • Linda

    They do not plan to secure the border — EVER

  • Some Guy

    Because Democrats want more voters. Why else? It’s a shame on all legal immigrants (including my grandfather, from Mexico) that this kind of question is even being asked. Sure, the system needs to be streamlined and there are good families that need our Catholic support. But stop beating everyone over the head with this as an excuse for another inaction.

  • Bob Sanders

    Perhaps it’s because it’s virtually impossible to bring a bill even to vote in the Senates, so there’s a need to address issues in one package?



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