5 Immigration Experts Who Denounce Right-Wing Radio's “Amnesty” Claim

Immigration experts dispute right-wing radio claims that the comprehensive immigration reform proposal is “amnesty.” Indeed, the legislation introduced in the Senate on April 17 by a bipartisan group of senators includes a number of provisions undocumented immigrants would have to meet before they could apply for citizenship -- along with waiting at a minimum 13 years.

To attack the legislation, conservative radio talk hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham are claiming that the immigration proposal is "amnesty" and that undocumented immigrants would not have to earn citizenship. In fact, the bill places a number of conditions on undocumented immigrants before they could apply for citizenship. Moreover, the federal government would have to meet several border enforcement guidelines before undocumented immigrants could take advantage of such a path.

Here are five immigration experts who also dispute right-wing radio claims that the proposal is “amnesty”:

David Leopold

Leopold, the general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained in a statement to Media Matters:

The term “amnesty” -- defined by Webster's Dictionary as a full “pardon” -- has long been the battle cry of restrictionists who oppose any immigration policy solution short of the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants from the U.S. So it comes as no surprise that the “A” word is once again being bandied about in opposition to the bipartisan immigration bill introduced by Senate “Gang of Eight.”

But [the] bill is a far cry from an “amnesty” for the 11 million aspiring citizens living in America's shadows. To the contrary, the legislation merely offers them a chance to navigate a demanding 13 year road toward possible permanent residency status and citizenship. It's laden with strict eligibility and compliance requirements and neither pardons nor guarantees anything to anyone.

Leopold noted that "[p]rovisional immigrants risk losing everything at any point along the road to citizenship if they fail to meet the new law's requirements" and added:

The bipartisan Senate proposal creates an arduous, albeit reasonable, roadmap to possible citizenship. It requires the payment of thousands of dollars in fines and processing fees, and adherence to strict legal conditions.

That's not an amnesty, that's a tough road. Amnesty, as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA) pointed out earlier this week, is what we have now and what we will continue to have if we do nothing to solve this problem.

Ellen Sittenfeld Battistelli

Battistelli, a policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, agreed that the proposal doesn't constitute “amnesty,” saying to Media Matters:

Most immigrants will face a waiting period of 13 years or more; a criminal background check; work requirements; documentation demands; English language and citizenship exams; and be subject to employment eligibility verification. And they will be required to pay significant fees and penalties which could amount to more than a month of their gross yearly income. Immigrants who can satisfy these conditions will be denied access to safety net services including basic health care and nutrition assistance - even after they secure a lawful status.

Put together, these financial and other demands could prevent undocumented immigrants from integrating fully into the U.S., and undermine the hope for a newly “reformed” immigration system.

Demetrios Papademetriou

Papademetriou, president and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, noted in an interview with CNBC that the Senate proposal is not “amnesty”:

BERNIE LO (host): Marco Rubio has already said this is not amnesty by any stretch of the imagination. It would be a long, arduous task, it will not be cheap, and it will be very onerous. A lot of hoops and hurdles to jump through. Correct?

PAPADEMETRIOU: That is correct. And it's going to take a long time in addition to that. But some people are going to call it amnesty nonetheless. You know, here is where in a sense political positions will decide whether you're going to call it “amnesty” or as the bill proposes an “earned legalization program” with the emphasis on earned. It's going to take a long time, as you said, lots of requirements, lots of fees, lots of fines, and to a certain degree, an uncertain outcome at the end of the process.

Alex Nowrasteh

Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, has also stated that the Senate bill is far from “amnesty”:

“This bill includes numerous punishments for unauthorized immigrants who broke the laws, including paying fines and other legal sanctions. ... If it was amnesty they would be legalized immediately with no punishment, no process. They would just be forgiven and handed a green card.”

Antonio Ginatta

Ginatta, an immigration expert with Human Rights Watch, disputed critics' claims that any proposal that contains requirements such as the one introduced in the Senate is amnesty. Discussing the bipartisan immigration framework unveiled in January that included a path to citizenship, ABC News reported:

That path includes a fine, payment of back taxes, learning English and civics, a criminal background check and proof of employment.

That's not amnesty, according to Human Rights Watch immigration expert Antonio Ginatta.

“It really has become poisoned,” Ginatta said of the a-word. “People, I guess, have taken it to mean that it's a free pass into legal immigration status, and that's why there's this opposition to the word or the idea behind amnesty, but if you look at the proposals there is no quick path or path without penalty.”

“If you think of amnesty as a pardon, that there's no penalty paid for the benefit, and the benefit here being legal status, then it's just incorrect, because there is a penalty paid,” Ginatta said.