Amnesty, which has been granted seven times in the US, is a controversial subject regarding illegal immigration laws. America has had a long-standing problem with workers who cross its borders illegally to find higher paying work than what is available in their home country.
There are many factors responsible for the illegal immigration problem. The US has a long border that is hard to police. In addition, there is high motivation for workers to risk the dangerous border crossing because of the relatively high potential reward for those who do make it across.
These undocumented workers then stay inside the US and generally work hard to make a living despite the lack of official government support. Some people who have studied the worker’s predicament suggest amnesty as a solution.
What do we mean by amnesty as applied to the problem of illegal immigration?
In 1986 a blanket amnesty bill was passed for the first time ever in the United States of America during Ronald Reagan’s term s president. The Immigration Reform and Control Act or IRCA was seen as a solution to the illegal immigration problem at that time. It was the first of the illegal immigration laws to grant amnesty to aliens, mostly Mexican workers who had been living in the US for several years.
The IRCA granted amnesty or legal forgiveness to millions of illegal workers who were then changed in status to legal immigrants. In the decades since the IRCA, there have been several other minor amnesties granted or extended for undocumented workers.
The reasoning behind this immigration amnesty was that since the workers were already inside the US borders, it was better to accept them into the system as regular taxpaying citizens. Mass deportation would have cost billions and was not an effective measure to take.
Humanitarian reasons and fairness, proponents declare, should allow them the rights and obligations of legal workers especially since many of them have been in the US for a number of years and have been assimilated into American culture. They state that if workers have jobs, work hard, speak English and do not commit crimes (other than that of being an illegal immigrant), they have earned legal protection from the government.
Other countries, most notably Spain, have also granted amnesties to illegal immigrants.
Critics, however, assert that most of the American people are not in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants. They point to surveys that say most Americans do not want amnesty and fear that more amnesty laws will result in a further flooding of illegal aliens across the US border.
Opinions are divided as to the desirability and effectiveness of amnesty in solving the illegal worker problem. Studies have been made that suggest that granting amnesty boosts the economy. For example, in 2008 the Kauffman Foundation found that immigrants are more likely to start businesses than native-born citizens, signifying that legalizing aliens would result in more jobs and stimulate the economy.
Meanwhile the debate over illegal immigration laws rages on. One thing is for sure though – amnesty is a hotly-debated topic and the furor is not likely to die down any time soon.