Why America has to avoid amnesty

Why America has to avoid amnesty
© Getty Images

Make no mistake, any legal status conferred on any illegal immigrant in the United States is amnesty, which should be rejected by Americans. Amnesty, or the forgiveness of consequences for illegal immigration, undermines the rule of law and fuels unlawful migration.

We learned this lesson from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 when over three million illegal residents gained amnesty while the promises for increased border security remain unfulfilled. The debate is now about what to do with the more than 649,000 illegal residents who were granted relief from removal under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive action by President Obama in 2012.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE promised to end the program but has faced obstruction. The Supreme Court ruled last month that the way the administration went about ending the program did not comply with procedural requirements. Yet the decision held that it could end the program if those problems are solved. In other words, the administration is in the red zone. You do not punt in the red zone. You punch it in for the touchdown.


It is in this context that open border advocates want Trump to cave and grant amnesty in exchange for some concessions. But as we learned in 1986, that is not a deal that conservatives should take. Amnesty of any kind increases the incentives for illegal crossings and makes the task of border security much more difficult. Indeed, the initial announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by Obama precipitated a massive increase in border crossings by unaccompanied minors.

Conservatives have pushed back amnesty efforts before, and we will do it again to protect. In 2013, more than a dozen Republican senators signed a comprehensive immigration package that included amnesty, among other unacceptable immigration giveaways. Conservatives across the country were rightfully outraged. They were betrayed and they took action. New conservative leaders emerged to beat back the effort, and the House did not take up the legislation. Conservatives held the people who pushed for amnesty accountable, and they continue to do so today.

The problem cannot be blamed on conservatives. For all of the emotional blackmail from liberals, the blame lies with them. Despite acknowledging that only Congress has the power to grant amnesty, Obama chose to do it anyway, giving hundreds of thousands of illegal residents the renewable permits to stay in the country. Obama falsely assured the recipients that their presence was legal and that they will not be removed.

Major corporations, progressive politicians, and open border advocates have sought to undermine our immigration system at every turn because doing so rewards them with cheap labor and more votes. Many of these same forces are at work to sow civil unrest in our cities. They rejoice that riots remain unaddressed by the criminal justice system. The common denominator in these cases is destruction of the rule of law.

There is nothing to be gained from empowering this mob. We should not negotiate with mobs in this country. Democrats have marketed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in a winsome way, but its consequences are a significant loss for Americans. They have convinced large swaths of the public that the recipients under the program are special citizens whose virtues exceed that of actual citizens. Just look no further than Joe Biden saying that they are “more American than most Americans.”


Liberals speak of the recipients as if they are kids, but these people are overwhelmingly adults. They said the recipients were thoroughly vetted, but Obama officials rushed through applications without serious checks. They claim that the recipients have assimilated into the mainstream, but we know that many have not. Most importantly, liberals have made the debate about the quality and virtue of the recipients, when this is about the rule of law and the legitimacy of our immigration system.

The recipients deserve fair treatment and due consideration. But they should go through the same process that we ask of other immigrants. Trump ran on a platform of ending illegal immigration. He was right to recognize the awful impacts of this problem on our security, economy, rule of law, and cultural cohesion. Conservatives rewarded him with the White House, and conservatives were rewarded with a leader who has delivered his promises and achieved many victories. Conservatives will reward him again if he cancels this program once and for all.

Michael Howell is a senior adviser for executive branch relations with the Heritage Foundation. He has served as an attorney to the chief oversight committees of the House and Senate and was a political appointee who handled congressional inquiries for the Homeland Security Department.