- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

The current debate about immigration seems to have centered around the notion of “amnesty” for the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Many years ago, an unambivalent amnesty was granted to several million fewer illegals in our country, and by any reasonable standard, it failed. Between two extremes of public opinion, that is, those who favor unlimited and uncontrolled immigration to the U.S. (a small number of Americans hold this view) and the immediate deportation of virtually all 12 million or so “illegals” (a minority view, but held by many more than the other extreme), there is a general consensus in the nation that there must be immediate steps taken to secure our borders, particularly the one we share with Mexico, and that we must quickly identify who is here legally and who is not.

The word “amnesty” comes from the Greek word “amnestia” which means forgetfulness. An amnesty is an “absolution, exoneration, pardon, acquittal.” The current proposal before the Congress of the United States, by this definition, is anything but an amnesty. The proposal sets up penalties, fines and serious requirements for illegals to pay and fulfill just in order to enjoy a temporary legal status. It does not confer citizenship. he proposal still has many defects, although none of them are fatal, and these can be negotiated and amended before the bill reaches the president for his signature. Proponents of the bill must be respectful of the legislative process. Nothing should be voted on without full examination of the details.

The proposal goes a long way to achieve two immediate goals. No one disputes that, in this era of violent terrorism, we must have secure borders, and that we must effectively seal our borders to uncontrolled immigration. Without this, “homeland security” is an empty phrase and the billions we are spending on it are wasted. This proposal does not provide absolute security in its present form, but it begins to move the government away from our current paralysis and inaction on this matter.

Secondly, every resident of the nation, citizen or not, needs to have a form of identification. To those who oppose this as an assault on civil liberties, there is the rejoinder that we already have this policy for American citizens. Every citizen must have a Social Security number. If you drive a car, you not only must have a license but must carry it with you. U.S. citizens are required to have a birth certificate. Local, state and federal governments in this country require many other forms of identification all the time. If you want to leave the country, you must have a passport to get back in. In fact, in virtually every other country on earth, personal identification is required, and heavy internal security about who is in that country is in force.

The proposal sets up significant standards for those illegal immigrants who register and wish at some future point to become citizens. These standards, and the requirements imposed, do not even resemble “amnesty” in any interpretation of the word. Rather than attacking and criticizing the president and those in the Congress (in both parties) who are attempting to reach a meaningful bill, we should be praising them for doing so.

And in our own self-interest, we should be urging them to complete their work. The word “amnesty” in this discussion has become a convenient form of demagoguery. If those who oppose this proposal do not like it on its real merits then let them propose a practical, workable alternative. If their objections are to its current defects, then let them put their energies into fixing them.

The indisputable fact, as I see it, is that the country wants responsible and effective action now. Our borders must be immediately and effectively sealed. Mass deportation is not an option. Neither is a continuing policy of “don’t ask, don’t find out” about the status of millions of illegal immigrants in our midst.

Of the approximately 12 million such illegals, a certain number don’t belong here by any reasonable standard. They should be sent back where they came from. The others, after properly registering, paying fines and penalties, waiting a long time for their turn to apply for citizenship, and returning to their home country before applying, should have the opportunity to become a legal part of the nation which long ago first lifted her lamp beside her “golden” door.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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