When Everyone Deserves Amnesty, We Have a Problem

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The political and humanitarian quandary of immigration is every practical liberal’s worst nightmare; it’s a question with no answer because it is both a government problem and a moral dilemma — an overwhelming one without any clear cut “correct” pathway.

Immigration policy makers can consider financial estimates; costs and calculations on how the economy is improved or crippled by illegal and legal immigration. They can take a look at statistical analysis, how demographics are changing and why, and what it all means from a practical standpoint. Finally, they can filter through personal  interviews, hearings, arguments, and pleas for aid and understanding amidst crisis and tragedy. But unfortunately, the latter is far more difficult to quantify, and the limits of moral responsibility at the government level are rather had to define.

The Conservative Perspective

Conservatives — and obviously there is a range, but let’s specify this as staunchly anti-immigration right wingers — in many ways have an easier task in front of them. When they consider illegal immigrants, the issue is rather cut and dry: how to control the border and how to deport most efficiently. From the conservative perspective, illegal immigrants should be deported. It’s important not to reward illegal behavior, and it’s unfair to immigrants who go through the hoops to gain legal citizenship and residency if unauthorized immigrants are allowed to remain in the states. There’s also the argument that illegal immigrants present an economic drain in the U.S., and the nation must put its own economic stability first before aiding outside demands.

The Liberal Conundrum

Democrats and liberals have a difficult task if they seek to balance the humanitarian side of things with both the financial demands that illegal immigration poses as well as with the practical logistics of how to deport, retain, and decide the fate of thousands of illegal residents already in the country.

What it ultimately comes down to is the question of who stays if illegal immigrants are allowed to remain, and if amnesty is indeed on the table. With Republicans likely to take the full majority in Congress by storm this midterm, that’s a big ‘if.’ But these questions remain: who stays? Who goes? Who answers those questions if Congress takes too long? This is where things get particularly complicated, because there are so many valid arguments for illegal immigrants desiring to remain in the U.S.

American in Everything But Name

The first argument for amnesty to take root was the DREAM Act, which, if passed by Congress, would cement President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action program. It targets those illegal immigrants who were brought into the country at a young age and have since, through no fault of their own, grown up as an American in every sense but their paperwork. Deferred Action applies to those who are between the ages of 15 and 3o years old, have a GED, or are enrolled in high school. Others outside of the specified age ranges, or without GEDs, are eligible if and when things change. The program also includes provisions for those who have served in the U.S. military.

Compared to when the Dream Act first began, it logically follows that a larger percentage of illegal immigrants would be eligible as younger generations age, enroll in school, and so on.  A new study from Pew Research’s “Hispanic Trends Project” shows just how long many immigrants have been living in the U.S. — an important consideration when looking at both the Deferred Action program and the DREAM Act. But first, the study points out that, “Growth in unauthorized immigration has leveled off,” and growth in illegal immigrants has slowed down while the median amount of individuals living in the United States has gone up considerably. Out of 10.4 million illegal immigrant residents in 2012, about 21 percent had lived in the United States for twenty years or more. Compared to 2000, when 38 percent had been in the U.S. for less than five years, as of 2012 only 15 percent had been residence for less than five years — likely due in part to the reduced number of new immigrants.

“There is renewed interest in unauthorized immigrants who are long-time residents of the United States and have U.S.-born children because they are among those to whom President Obama reportedly is considering offering a temporary reprieve from deportation,” states Pew Research. The DREAM Act and Obama’s promised scale back on deportations for those without criminal records complicates matters, as does his insistence that he prefers to wait on immigration action until Congress has passed overarching reform. It has led critics to argue that he’s invited immigrants to the United States with promises of amnesty, while others argue he’s actually increased deportation and hasn’t limited his deportations to real criminals, targeting individuals with misdemeanors like running a traffic light.

Ultimately, the important point here is that there are more and more individuals who have been residing within the U.S. for an increasing period of time. After over 20 years of living in the U.S. and having children born on U.S. soil, it’s difficult not to see such individuals as deserving of leniency. But that number is steadily growing. According to Pew Research, as of 2012, out of the 10.4 million adult immigrants in the U.S. illegally, 3,050 million have children born on U.S. soil and 675 million have children over eighteen who are U.S. citizens. There are 775 million under the age of eighteen, and 850 million who are protected by DACA, Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or have Temporary Protected Status because of dangerous conditions at home. Along that same vein of TPS protected individuals comes the problem presented by unaccompanied minors, and the many applications for refugee or asylum seekers.

Jeb Bush and Families Looking for a Better Life

To mix this partisan comparison up a bit, let’s take a look at 2016 presidential prospect Jeb Bush and his amnesty-friendly argument for families seeking a better life. “There are means by which we can control our border better than we have. And there should be penalties for breaking the law. But the way I look at this … is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table,” said Bush. “And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

He walks a fine line in this particular interview with The Washington Post, calling for “penalties” but sympathizing with the plight of an immigrant family. He doesn’t spell out amnesty, but he does make more sympathetic noises than any Republican needs to — unless that Republican is hoping to appeal to a immigrant demographic for votes (cynical, I know). Either way, this idea is even more lenient than

This is not an argument for or against amnesty as much as its a recognition of the many judgement calls amnesty would demand, and the ever increasing number who deserve consideration, but are stuck in grey area awaiting Congressional reform. The fact that illegal immigration has tapered off so much in recent years is also strongly worthy of note, and something that often gets lots in discussion of daily news on underage and unaccompanied children crossing the border.

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