Kahn, an economic adviser to President Carter, was instructed by
the White House to avoid using the word "recession" for
fear of its political implications. So instead, he impishly used
"banana," as in "Between 1973 and 1975 we had the
deepest banana that we had in 35 years."
administration is trying the same thing with its proposed illegal-alien
amnesty, which presidents Bush and Fox will discuss this week during
the latter's state visit. But this time the objective is to sweeten
an obviously unpalatable policy.
means anything in the context of immigration, it means granting
permanent residence to illegal aliens, as we did for 2.7 million
illegals in 1986 (a move billed as the first and last amnesty in
American history). But last month, when the White House floated
its plan to grant legal status to some or all of the 3 to 4 million
Mexican illegal aliens in this country, it met a firestorm of GOP
criticism. And ever since, there's been a mad rush to come up with
alternative descriptions for what is plainly an amnesty.
The White House
mantra is that it opposes a "blanket amnesty." In August,
President Bush said, "There's going to be no amnesty,"
though he immediately contradicted himself by saying he favors a
plan "that will legalize the hard work that's taking place
now in America." Presumably, the point is that the only thing
that can be called an amnesty is a grant of immediate legal status
to all illegal aliens, without any standard to determine eligibility.
By that reckoning, even the huge 1986 amnesty wasn't really an amnesty,
since only about half the illegal aliens here at the time benefited
from it, because of numerous residency and other requirements.
have been working overtime to avoid the "A" word. Unlike
in Al Kahn's playful approach, the result has been euphemisms only
a policy wonk could love: "regularization," "legalization,"
"normalization," "permanence," "earned
adjustment," and (perhaps most ludicrous) "phased-in access
to earned regularization." Focus groups conducted by the National
Council of La Raza, a leading supporter of amnesty, found so much
resistance that the organization advised Mexican president Vicente
Fox never to utter the word.
supporters have gone farther, challenging the very concept of amnesty
and seeking to legitimize illegal immigration. Rep. Luis Gutierrez
(D., Ill.), for instance, rejects the concept altogether: "Amnesty
there's an implication that somehow you did something wrong
and you need to be forgiven." Cecilia Munoz of the National
Council of La Raza makes the same point in a more sophisticated
fashion; the word "conveys a sense of forgiving someone for
a crime," she says, when in fact, crossing the border illegally
is a civil offense, not a criminal one. A quick look at Title 8,
Section 1325 of the U.S. Code shows this to be false: Illegal entry
into the United States is a misdemeanor on the first offense, and
a felony afterward.
Now, the current
amnesty proposal would be administratively different from
its predecessor. The 1986 version was a "retrospective amnesty,"
in which illegal aliens had to present proof that they had been
living here since before 1982 in order to get a green card. Though
the details have yet to be announced, the outlines of a new amnesty
are clear it would be a "prospective amnesty,"
under which illegals would first be rechristened as "temporary
workers" and then, after a period of several years, would receive
green cards as though they were ordinary legal immigrants.
Both the retrospective
and prospective approaches grant legal residence, and eventually
citizenship, to illegal aliens the defining characteristics
of an amnesty. In fact, that's the only reason the immigrant-rights
groups supported the administration's proposal in the first place.
Otherwise, the plan would be no different from Sen. Phil Gramm's
guestworker proposal, which would allow illegal aliens to work legally,
but only as part of a genuinely temporary program, which provided
no green cards at the end. Such a program would have its own drawbacks
to begin with, there's nothing as permanent as a temporary
worker but at least it would have the virtue of semantic
thinks of amnesty, the debate over such a sweeping measure should
take place in plain English. If an amnesty does have merit, supporters
should be able to make the case for it without evasion and obfuscation.
Perhaps, as the discussion heats up in the wake of this week's visit
by President Fox, we can get away from talk of "phased-in access
to earned regularization" and grapple with these momentous
issues more openly and honestly.