Last updated on: 3/27/2017 | Author:

What Is Immigration Amnesty?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con), an online law and government information site, in an article, “Amnesty Law,” accessed on Mar. 10, 2017, available at, stated:

“Amnesty for illegal immigrants is defined as a governmental pardon for violating policies related to immigration. Immigration amnesty would include the federal government forgiving individuals for using false documentation such as social security numbers, identification cards, and driver’s licenses, in order to gain employment in the U.S. and continue to remain in the country. Amnesty would allow illegal immigrants or undocumented aliens to gain permanent residency in the United States.”

Mar. 10, 2017 -

Matthew Spalding, PhD, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation, in a June 25, 2007 Heritage Foundation essay entitled “Undeniably Amnesty: The Cornerstone of the Senate’s Immigration Proposal,” wrote:

“Amnesty, from the same Greek root as ‘amnesia,’ forgives past crimes and removes them from the record for future purposes. In the context of immigration, amnesty is commonly defined as granting legal status to a group of individuals unlawfully present in a country. Amnesty provides a simple, powerful, and undeniable benefit to the recipient: It overlooks the alien’s illegal entry and ongoing illegal presence and creates a new legal status that allows the recipient to live and work in the country. The textbook example of such an amnesty is the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The act’s core provision gave amnesty to those who could establish that they had resided illegally in the United States continuously for five years by granting them temporary resident status, which in 18 months was adjustable to permanent residency, which led to citizenship five years later.”

June 25, 2007 - Matthew Spalding, PhD

Jacqueline Bhabha, JD, Executive Director of the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies, in a June 17, 2007 National Public Radio “Weekend Edition Sunday” interview entitled “Immigration or Amnesty?,” stated [as transcribed by]:

“Amnesty is an act which erases all previous legal remembrance, so it is the situation where you are already wiping the slate clean. The term is loaded because it is used by different parties in debates to signal a particular position so… in the current immigration debate for example, it is used to suggest a sort of forgiving of law-breaking. It is used in a loaded way to suggest that we are meant to be a law-abiding society, but we are not really playing by our own rules.”

June 17, 2007 - Jacqueline Bhabha, JD

The American Friends Service Committee, a religious social justice advocacy group, in a report entitled “‘Legalization’ or ‘Amnesty’? Understanding the Debate – What’s the Difference Between Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Legalization, and Amnesty?,” (accessed Sep. 26, 2007) from its website, explained:

“Most people — immigrants, advocates, and policy makers — refer to the measures adopted in 1986 as an ‘amnesty’… In the years since the passage of The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), the word ‘amnesty’ has become a political hot potato — tossed around by proponents and opponents of the concept in order to label the other side.

Immigrants and advocates who support amnesty are of two minds about the term ‘amnesty.’ Some say that ‘amnesty’ means extending LPR [legal permanent residency status] to undocumented immigrants… In addition, it is a term that immigrant communities understand, especially the Spanish-speaking community with the translation ‘amnistía.’ Within the immigrants’ rights community, others argue that, although they also support granting LPR status to undocumented immigrants, legislators in Congress are unwilling to even begin a conversation if the term ‘amnesty’ is used. Therefore, they prefer the term ‘legalization.’ Some would also say that there is a substantive difference between the concepts of ‘legalization’ and ‘amnesty,’ in that ‘legalization’ would include a more stringent application process or other provisions, including measures to regulate future flows of migration. At the same time, however, others would argue that the concepts are exactly the same; the difference is simply the term. Proponents of the term ‘legalization’ argue that ‘amnesty’ implies ‘forgiveness’ for a ‘crime.’ Immigration, they believe, should not be seen as a crime. Proponents of the term ‘amnesty’ say that no human being is illegal, and so they do not need to ask for ‘legalization.’ ‘Amnesty,’ they believe, is the more more appropriate term, because it asks forgiveness for breaking a law, albeit an unjust law. Amnesty International, for example, has been using the term for years, but it does not cast political prisoners in a negative light. And so, the debate continues.”

Sep. 26, 2007 - American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)