January 30, 2013

On Amnesty

Hatched by Dafydd

I've seen an interesting Snorgtees ad on Power Line; a busty young blonde chick with really cute glasses wears a t-shirt that reads, "the misuse of 'literally' makes me figuratively insane."


Well, the misuse of "amnesty" makes me want to punish someone.

I have an old, very old copy of Black's Law Dictionary; it's the fourth edition, copyrighted 1951. It's entirely possible that more current editions have a completely different definition of amnesty... but, well, I doubt it.

The old definition is: "A sovereign act of oblivion for past acts, granted by a government to all persons (or to certain persons) who have been guilty of crime or delict, generally political offenses -- treason, sedition, rebellion -- and often conditioned upon their return to obedience and duty within a prescribed time."

In typically circular fashion, here is the legal definition of oblivion: "Act of forgetting, or fact of having forgotten; forgetfulness. Official ignoring of offenses; amnesty, or general pardon; as, a act of oblivion. State or fact of being forgotten."

I am not a lawyer, nor do I even play one in the blogosphere; but it's clear to me that oblivion, forgetting, ignoring of offenses, pardon, and amnesty all imply that no punishment of any kind is to be levied against those granted "amnesty."

Is that what we're talking about, a full and complete pardon for all illegal aliens, with no punishment of any kind -- no fines, no back taxes, not even an admission of guilt? We haven't seen a bill yet this time; but in that sure wasn't the case back in 2007... yet conservatives screamed "Amnesty!" back then, too.

The McCain-Kennedy legislation in the Senate, called alternately the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 or the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007, unambiguously contained punitive and restitution elements:

S.1639 would have created a new class of visa, the "Z visa", that would be given to everyone who was living without a valid visa in the United States on Jan. 1, 2008; this visa would give its holder the legal right to remain in the United States for the rest of their lives, and access to a Social Security number. After eight years, the holder of a Z visa would be eligible for a United States Permanent Resident Card (a "green card") if they wanted to have one; they would first have to pay a $2000 fine, and back taxes for some of the period in which they worked. By the normal rules of green cards, five years after that the illegal immigrant could begin the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Yet despite that, conservatives consistently derided it as "amnesty" (including those on Power Line -- who misuse the same word even now). Again, I'm not a lawyer; but it seems to me that the proper term for partial forgiveness of a sentence, accompanied by admission of guilt and some measure of punishment and restitution, is a plea bargain.

Now maybe it was a bad plea bargain; much of the devil would be in the details. But in any case, a plea bargain is not an amnesty. They are completely different concepts.

So why do otherwise sane and rational conservative commentators on illegal immigration so consistently misuse the word amnesty to describe what is clearly an offer of a plea bargain? Alas, I can think of no other reasons than propaganda, argument by tendentious redefinition, begging the question, and an attempt to extort dissenters by threatening to label them criminals and criminal-lovers.

It's akin to referring to all abortions as "murders," and accusing every doctor who has ever performed one, for any reason whatsoever, of being a "baby murderer." The purpose is not to stimulate debate but to stifle debate, not to find common ground but to silence the opposition. That is, just the sort of thing that liberals and progressives use all the time to silence the Right. How wonderful that we now stoop to doing the same!

If we're going to talk about the new immigration-reform suggestion from today's Gang of 8, then let's at least do so honestly, rather than using elminationist rhetoric to smear anybody who disagrees as a lawless bandito and traitor to the United States... a description that better fits our new Secretary of State, JFK *, than folks who want to find a solution to the illegal population somewhere in between mass deportations and true amnesty.


* Kerry was confirmed by a Senate vote of 94 to 3; 42 of the 45 Republicans -- necessarily including many "tea party" Republicans -- voted to confirm and support the man who accused his compatriots in Vietnam of committing "atrocities," "war crimes," and "crimes against humanity;" the man who tried to negotiate, on his own initiative, a separate and ruinous surrender of American forces to the Communist government of North Vietnam.

Evidently, conservatives and tea partiers were too enraged by the possibility of immigration reform to notice that they were voting to confirm a Secretary of State who was even more damaging to the U.S. war effort than was Jane Fonda vamping on an enemy anti-aircraft gun.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 30, 2013, at the time of 2:43 AM


The following hissed in response by: mdgiles

They called it an Amnesty, because they understood that no matter what the punitive elements included in the act, there was no intention on the part of the supporters to ever carry them out. Imagine a plea bargain where the defendant is supposed to do a certain amount of jail time - and then the authorities releases him the minute court is adjourned.

The above hissed in response by: mdgiles [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2013 11:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E

Semantics is, of course, important. And I agree that old dictionaries are often the best. (I hate, for example, when educated people pronounce err as "air." Look it up in your old Funk & Wagnalls.)

In this case, the most important thing is that potential future illegal immigrants use "amnesty" (or amnestia) to describe what the Unenlightened 8 and the President are contemplating. The latter refuse to call it amnesty or a plea bargain or any other such. But it's the perception of future illegals that really matters -- they call it amnesty, so to them, that's what it is.

Thus, I agree with you, Dafydd, but for a different reason. Every time our leaders talk about this as amnesty, people in other countries can point to a gringo periodico and say, "Look, Senator Flabbybottom says Obama wants amnesty." That makes it so.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2013 11:22 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

"When I use a word, it means exactly..." etc. The only reason there are any punitive elements in these bills are because liberals would be happily oblivious to ALL crimes committed by Democrat voters (or politicians), and so when Republicans use the word it is a description of what Democrats would perpetrate, unless they are constrained by emotional public outcry. And for that, charged but imprecise language can be useful. The good does not succeed by playing fair, unfortunately.

Besides, I think it is a TERRIBLE "plea bargain," even if it actually obtains to reality. The only kind of amnesty I would accept would be the "go back where you came from first" kind. Then, I would create a wide front door for those with a job and (although we don't know how they got them) community ties.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 31, 2013 4:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: kentuckydan

but it seems to me that the proper term for partial forgiveness of a sentence, accompanied by admission of guilt and some measure of punishment and restitution, is a plea bargain.

Except that in a "plea bargain" you usually do not get to keep what you obtained illegally (entry into the US) nor are you rewarded for your illegal activity (pathway to citizenship)

Sorry Dafydd you IMO are guilty of the same charge you levy on others.

I have a question for you. Say we make you the Master of the Universe you can recreate the cosmos such that the US has an immigration policy exactly the way YOU think it should be.

That done your plan for people who enter the country illegal is then?

The above hissed in response by: kentuckydan [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2013 1:18 PM

The following hissed in response by: Chris Balsz

"Conditional amnesty" would be a better historical analogue. There's an established penalty (deportation) and they will not get it, if they perform certain acts.

As Dick E noted, the Espanol press is talking about "amnestia". If your conditional amnesty is necessary because you won't deport 11 million people, then, what happens when they refuse to perform the conditions? Deportation? Or a more generous, "realistic" amnesty?

I find it very strange that a government that presumes to dictate every sale of coffee, every hotel rental and every hiring through Civil Rights Acts, every bathroom and parking lot through the Americans with Disabilities Act, and every household through the Affordable Care Act, would just declare that 11 million rebels are too many to prosecute.

The above hissed in response by: Chris Balsz [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2013 6:55 AM

The following hissed in response by: kentuckydan

would just declare that 11 million rebels are too many to prosecute.

Point of fact you cannot be a rebel if you are a citizen of another nation, you might be an alien raider. invader, or plunderer.

As for "Conditional Amnesty" being apt for what is impending, someone correct me if I am mistaken but I cannot recall any Historical record of an Amnesty applied to people who were going to CONTINUE to commit and enjoy the fruits of the illegal activity that prompeted the call for Amnesty

The above hissed in response by: kentuckydan [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2013 3:32 PM

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