This Graph Explains Why Immigration Reform Is Not “Amnesty”

Conservative media figures have attacked House Speaker John Boehner for accusing tea party groups of undercutting Republican Party interests, claiming that Boehner did so to facilitate passage of “amnesty” in 2014. But the “amnesty” label that right-wing figures affix to immigration reform has been disputed even by Republican lawmakers opposed to reform.

Indeed, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate imposes severe hurdles and makes undocumented immigrants wait 13 years before they can even begin to apply for citizenship.

As the Washington Post explained:

One of the weaknesses of the public conversation about immigration is that any proposal under which the final result for some undocumented immigrants is citizenship gets labeled “amnesty.” But in reality, most proposals put a ton of hurdles between such immigrants' current status and that goal.

The Post included this graph from the Center for American Progress, which drives home the absurdity of calling what basically amounts to a 13-year wait -- that may or may not result in citizenship -- an “amnesty”:

As the Post reported on December 12, Boehner criticized tea party and ultra-conservative groups who came out against a recently passed bi-partisan budget deal, calling them “misleading” and without “credibility,” and saying they are “working against the interests of the Republican Party.”

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, a former CNN and Fox News contributor, responded in a post on his RedState blog titled, “Boehner's Crocodile Tears for Amnesty,” writing:

Speaker Boehner's crocodile tears in his attacks and cries against the conservative movement are really about the next fight. Speaker Boehner intends to pursue immigration reform, with an amnesty component. Before he gets there, he needs to shape battle lines.


The Speaker assumes he can marginalize conservatives through primary season, make conservatives unpopular, then push through an amnesty based immigration reform plan daring his tenuous coalition to move over to the unpopular kids' table.

While conservatives and much of the rest of the country are scratching their heads over Speaker John Boehner's temper tantrums this week, the Speaker is laying the ground work for his legacy -- he will be the man who gets immigration reform through the House of Representatives. He is already staffing up on this front.

On Fox News, contributor Monica Crowley echoed Erickson's comments, saying that Boehner's criticism has everything to do with his intent to “marginalize” and “demonize” conservatives in order “to push through amnesty” since he's “hired people on his staff recently who are amnesty advocates.”

On his radio show, Mark Levin agreed with Erickson's blog post, saying that Boehner is doing this in preparation for the next big item: “amnesty.” He added: “So you can predict that those of us who believe in law and order, those of us who reject amnesty, you can now understand that we are going to be marginalized if they have their way.” 

While Boehner's strategy here may be up for debate, what is not disputable is that an immigration reform bill like the Senate-passed proposal that includes a path to citizenship is not “amnesty.”

Conservatives have repeatedly turned to the amnesty falsehood to attack immigration reform, a loaded term that has been proven to produce a negative reaction, even though some conservative Republicans have rejected that notion.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is a chief opponent of the Senate bill, has admitted that the use of amnesty is wrong. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has also disputed the characterization. As Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh noted: “If it was amnesty they would be legalized immediately with no punishment, no process. They would just be forgiven and handed a green card.”