The American people are righteous and fair. They prefer honesty over political wordplay. The hot-potato that everyone shuns today is “amnesty.” Politicians proclaim that Americans won’t tolerate amnesty for foreign citizens who entered or remained in the country illegally. Yet, we readily accept other forms of amnesty. We allow the wealthy who’ve used elaborate tax shelters to ‘fess up, pay their taxes and penalties and escape jail time through federal tax amnesties. We let accused criminal defendants ‘cop a plea’ to a lesser offense and escape penalties for much more serious crimes – yet another routine type of tolerated amnesty.
Amnesties are a realistic response to systemic problems. Although our laws must be enforced, the government simply cannot afford the resources (police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, juries, courtrooms and detention space) necessary to punish tax cheats and other criminals to the absolute letter of the law. We therefore opt for pragmatic solutions; we create reasonable penalties that honor the spirit of the law but don’t let wrongdoers thumb their collective noses at us.
So if amnesty is a reasonable solution to large-scale enforcement problems, why the no-amnesty fuss for immigrants here illegally? Since we lack the resources to deport 11 million people, why not declare an amnesty with strings that sting? Make them pay back taxes and hefty fines, and prove they’ve stayed on the sunny side of the criminal laws and are employed.
For that matter, we should broaden the immigration amnesty, extending it to all of us who’ve benefited from the undocumented. Virtually all Americans have enjoyed the fruits of illegal labor: tidier lawns and gardens, lower restaurant prices, cleaner, well-built homes, more affordable goods and services, and homecare for kids and seniors. In the spirit of forgiveness enshrined in most faith traditions, we should forgive ourselves and the foreign folk among us. We should make our borders as impregnable as possible and take pressure off the borders with a guest worker program, while pursuing the American dream in harmony together. Call it amnesty if you will, but let’s join hands and work for the betterment of our families and our country.