In a debate at the end of November, Newt Gingrich announced his plan for dealing with the 11 to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States. It was classic Newt. First he offered a brief history lesson on the 1986 amnesty disaster, then he laid out his solution, with his signature air of self-confidence and boldness. What he proposed is a standard mass amnesty, like those long supported by liberal Democrats, but with three twists: 1) Only illegal aliens who have been here for an unspecified but significant number of years will get the amnesty; 2) amnesty recipients will be allowed legal presence in the United States, but not citizenship; and 3) amnesty will be awarded by local neighborhood boards of citizens, based on the model of World War II Selective Service boards.
Often when Newt offers the “big ideas,” as he calls them, that are the mainstay of his campaign, they appear at first blush to be sensible and well considered. The former professor presumably does his research before delivering a lecture, right? Unfortunately, not this time. His amnesty proposal betrays a misunderstanding of why past amnesties have failed and an ignorance of how immigration enforcement actually works.
Before continuing, let’s define the operative term. Since most members of the American public — and Republican voters in particular — oppose amnesty, politicians go to great lengths to avoid using the word, preferring euphemisms such as “legalization program” or “pathway to citizenship.” So it is important to state what an amnesty is. It is any policy that awards lawful presence in the United States to large numbers of illegal aliens, whether it offers a path to citizenship or not. The opportunity to apply for citizenship may or may not be included, but it’s an amnesty (legally, a pardoning of illegal acts) either way. Newt cannot accurately claim that his proposal is not an amnesty merely because it does not offer citizenship.
Now let’s look at Newt’s big idea, which suffers from three fundamental flaws. First, when revealing his plan, Newt declared that it would not be “humane” to deport an illegal-alien household that had been in the United States for 25 years. After all, the illegal aliens might have friends in the community and might belong to a church, he suggested.
But since when does having community ties make compliance with the law optional? I lived in England for four years, made many good friends, and attended a local church. But I never dreamed that by doing so I could stake a claim to permanent residence in the country. And I was there legally. Social ties do not and should not create an entitlement to remain. Make Newt’s argument anywhere else in the world when your visa expires and you will politely be escorted to the nearest port of departure.
Equally puzzling is Newt’s assertion that the illegal aliens who have been here the longest are the ones who most deserve amnesty. Apparently Newt believes that the longer you continue to violate the law, the less culpable you are. He seems to be applying the property-law concept of “adverse possession” — a kind of squatter’s right to remain — to immigration law. But squatters are allowed to claim property rights only if their squatting has been done in the open and the property owner has chosen to do nothing about it. Illegal aliens conceal their status and evade law enforcement. Why in the world should we reward those who have been the most successful in committing federal crimes?
Newt also suggested that an illegal alien violates the law only once, when he first sneaks into the United States, and that if this one crime occurred a long time ago, it’s okay to overlook it now. But most illegal aliens, in the ordinary course of living, commit multiple crimes throughout their stay in the United States. For example, it’s a crime to enter the country without inspection (which many illegal aliens do repeatedly), it’s a crime to use someone else’s Social Security number to obtain employment, and it’s a crime to present false information to a law-enforcement officer.