Amnesty is an age-old concept that poured out unwarranted mercy to individuals or groups of individuals. Kin to the famous “phone call from the governor” before the execution of the condemned man, an amnesty is granted by the highest authority and not only pardons the individual (or group) but as a matter of fact blots out any record of wrong-doing.
In the United States, amnesty itself has a rich and colorful history. On 12-08-1863 Abraham Lincoln granted amnesty to those who participated in the rebellion against the Northern States and returned all confiscated property, with the notable exception of slaves. In return, the prodigal Americans were to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution.
Not too long thereafter, on 07-04-1902, President Theodore Roosevelt extended an amnesty to the Filipino people who participated in the insurrection against the authority of the United States. It is noteworthy that once again an oath was to be sworn by each individual accepting the authority of the United States in the Philippine Islands.
Fast forwarding to November 6th, 1986 we see President Ronald Regan signing into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which critics claim offered amnesty to individuals illegally in the United States since 1982. Temporary residency visas were given to those who claimed the amnesty. The thusly legalized immigrant then had to apply for an adjustment to permanent resident after a period of time not to extend thirty months. While it is true that the Act did away with penalties for those found in violation of the United States immigration law, it cleverly does not once use the term “amnesty” to describe its provisions.
Now, on May 16th, 2006 President George W. Bush is grappling with a similar issue and given the flood of illegal immigration into the United States, he wants to make sure he stays away from the term “amnesty.” As a matter of fact, considering that President Regan’s Act is by many critics considered the poster child for a failed immigration amnesty, President Bush has gone to great pains to assure that he comes out against any kind of amnesty.
He quite correctly points out that the United States has a large number of illegal immigrants, and to offer an amnesty would only increase these numbers; however, at the same time President Bush also supports a path to citizenship for those who have been in America for a while, especially if they are gainfully employed. Seeking to weed out those who drain the social services system, only recently immigrated illegally, have an arrest record, or show other reasons why they could not come to Sunday dinner at mom’s, President Bush is willing to let bygones be bygones for those who have been in the States for about five years, have worked this entire time (illegally), pass a criminal background check, are willing (and able) to pay back-taxes (on wages earned “under the table”), and who will also bolster the government’s coffers by agreeing to pay a fine.
While this may not qualify as a full tilt amnesty proposal, it sure does look like a partial amnesty, in spite of the President’s protestations that he does not believe in amnesty.
"O! Be some other name: What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." William Shakespeare