Bush's Amnesty Lingo

The nation’s debate on immigration policy largely hinges on how one defines “amnesty.”

It’s too bad for conservatives that the man who famously joked “I admit it, I am not one of the great linguists” is leading it.

Surprise, he’s wrong.

This man, of course, is President Bush and through his Commerce Secretary who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, the White House’s definition of this word, amnesty, was finally revealed.

While conducting a hearing about the President’s guest-worker bill he is negotiating with the Democrat Congress, Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leady (D.-Vt.) asked Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez what he thought amnesty was.

Gutierrez replied. “Amnesty, for me, it’s unconditional pardon.”
So, there we have it: the President’s definition of amnesty. A simple nexis search shows this is a carefully thought out line Gutierrez has delivered in various speeches to political organizations before.

When speaking to the International Franchise Association in September 2006 Gutierrez explained the White House’s definition of amnesty in more detail. He said, “The President has said it wouldn’t be wise, practical, or humane [to deport illegal aliens]…. Mass deportation is an extreme position, and it’s not realistic. The other extreme is amnesty. The dictionary defines amnesty as an ‘unconditional pardon — obliterating all memory of the offense.’ The President does not support amnesty. It’s not accurate or fair to call his solution amnesty. He believes that there must be consequences for those who violate our laws. We’re talking about having a hard-earned path to legalization, which would require meeting conditions: People waiting their turn in line, Paying fines for having violated the law, Paying taxes, Learning English, Undergoing a criminal background check, And having a job. The issues of illegal immigration are far too complex to presume they can be solved with one easy action.”

He gave the same speech at CATO in August 2006 and to the Professional Landcare Network in July 2006.

Unfortunately for Gutierrez and President Bush, conservatives have a different definition of amnesty the White House has been unable to shake. Conservatives believe any grant of legal work status to an illegal alien who was not made to first return to his home country would be amnesty.

President Bush insists he is against amnesty, but will not insist illegal aliens go home in order to apply for legal work status and begin a path to citizenship.

This is a dilemma. Shortly before midterm elections A Tarrance Group poll showed that 46% to 48% of Americans agreed with the statement that “Any program in which one who is currently an illegal immigrant could earn the right to citizenship is amnesty.”

In other words, they reject the White House’s definition.

At the hearing, Bush’s guest-worker allies sought guidance from the Gutierrez and Secretary of Defense Michael Chertoff, who also testified at the hearing, how Congress might convince Americans their guest-worker bill did not give illegal aliens amnesty.

After detailing the numerous immigration bills the Senate has considered and the hundreds of hours debating various proposals, Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) asked, “Is there anything more that can be done to impose sanctions and penalties to avoid the categorization of amnesty?”

Both replied that some steps should be taken to ensure that illegal aliens were not given any sort of “advantage” over legal immigrants.

Not satisfied Specter asked again, “How are we going to persuade the American people that this is as much as can be done in dealing with the 11 million undocumented? What more can be done, Secretary Chertoff, to deal with the critical issue of amnesty?”

Again, the secretaries advised that he make sure illegal aliens weren’t given any “advantages” in the Senate’s forthcoming immigration bill.

These answers were unacceptable to Specter. Frustrated and at the end of his allotted time Specter told them, “I would appreciate it if both of you to think through this amnesty issue and find the best arguments we have or what else can be done to eliminate this argument because it is an impediment to dealing with the undocumented immigrants.”

The simplest way to eliminate this “impediment” would be to eliminate amnesty from their bill. Instead, as plainly demonstrated by Specter’s questions, pro-amnesty politicians are desperate to find a way to deceive Americans they aren’t actively seeking to provide illegal aliens with amnesty.

The barrier to sufficiently enforcing our borders has boiled down to a semantic battle between the White House and the Republican’s conservative base. The flailing linguist is not going to win. That’s why President Bush is so eager to compromise with the Democrats on this issue.
If Bush is determined that his legacy be defined by his repetition of President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty mistake and whatever unfolds abroad in Iraq, there’s at least a 50%  chance Bush won’t be receiving an unconditional pardon from those who will be forced to accommodate his illegal “guests” after he leaves.