With Amnesty, You Get More Amnesty

Published on June 4th, 2010

By Maria Fotopoulos
April 26, 2010

Amnesty? Again. Really? Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results. That’s an often quoted line that’s been applied to many different scenarios, but it’s particularly apt for the amnesty discussion.

In 1986, legislation was drafted to deal with a growing illegal alien population residing in the U.S. that was estimated at 1 million in 1980. Sen. Ted Kennedy convinced President Reagan to support the Immigration and Reform Control Act which was positioned as an amnesty to end all amnesties that would be backed up by strict border and workplace enforcement. Sound like a familiar scenario to today?

The actual number of illegal aliens that applied for the 1986 amnesty turned out to be more than 3.5 million, and 2.7 million illegal aliens received amnesty.

While most people remember this as the “last” amnesty, there actually have been six others since then. In 1994, there was a temporary rolling amnesty, extended in 1997, for 578,000 illegal aliens. There also was an amnesty for nearly 1 million illegal aliens from Central America in 1997. The next year, 125,000 illegal aliens from Haiti were given amnesty. And in 2000, amnesty was given to some 400,000 illegal aliens who claimed they should have been amnestied under the 1986 legislation, as well as 900,000 more through a reinstatement of the rolling amnesty of 1994.

In total, starting with the 1986 law, some 5.7 million people received amnesty and the opportunity to become U.S. citizens. So the history of the last 25 years indicates that, rather than ending illegal immigration, amnesty just spawns more. The long trail of ad hoc amnesties must come to an end.

Amnesty means people who have broken the law by entering the country illegally are rewarded for their behavior. So there’s no deterrent; others will follow the same path. Not surprisingly, a Zogby survey found that 56 percent of people in Mexico believe extending legal status to illegal aliens here would make it more likely that people they know would enter the U.S illegally. Mexico is the top sending country for both legal and illegal immigrants.

Over the long term, from a sheer numbers standpoint, amnesty has a much broader impact than just the addition of the actual number amnestied. Those who become citizens then are allowed to sponsor family members. This chain migration easily could lead to another 24 to 40 million people in the U.S. if each new citizen were to bring in their parents under yet another proposed amnesty for an estimated 10 to 30 million people currently in the U.S. illegally. (While 10 million is a frequently used estimate of how many people are in the country illegally, other studies indicate the number may be as high as 30 million.) Unchecked population growth – regardless the source – is utterly unsustainable.

The new legislation introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) at the end of 2009 and sponsored by Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) follows the flawed 2007 bill of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who again is onboard to pursue immigration “reform.” In the Senate, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-NC) are pushing for amnesty this year, while President Obama, harkening back to the Reagan years, has said he will push for a bipartisan mass amnesty bill before year end.

Amnesty didn’t end illegal immigration in 1986, 1994, 1997 or 2000. The amnesty being pushed this year won’t either. To use another oft-quoted line, just say no.

Maria Fotopoulos is a Senior Writing Fellow for the Santa Barbara-based organization, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS | capsweb.org), where she writes about the population-sustainability connection. Reach her at [email protected], on Twitter at TurboDog50 and Facebook at Maria K. Fotopoulos.

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