Bush Calls Immigration Bill ‘Amnesty’

President Bush, in a “slip of the tongue,” termed the controversial immigration bill up before the Senate today an “amnesty” bill. ABC’s Rick Klein reports:

President Bush has spent a whole lot of time in recent months claiming that the immigration bill isn’t “amnesty.” But in describing the measure Tuesday morning, an apparent slip of the tongue suggested otherwise — providing fodder for the talk-radio crowd that loathes the bill and wants it defeated in the Senate.

“You know, I’ve heard all the rhetoric — you’ve heard it, too — about how this is amnesty. Amnesty means that you’ve got to pay a price for having been here illegally, and this bill does that,” Bush said, according to the official White House transcript.

[…]

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow released a statement saying the president “misspoke.”

The statement reads: “This has been construed as an assertion that comprehensive immigration reform legislation before the Senate offers amnesty to immigrants who came here illegally. That is the exact opposite of the president’s long-held and often-stated position. President Bush has noted repeatedly that the comprehensive reform he supports is not an amnesty bill. Amnesty means forgiving wrongdoing without imposing punishment. The immigration reforms passed in 1986 granted amnesty. The legislation under consideration this year does not. This measure imposes significant punishments on those who came to this country illegally between 1986 and the beginning of this year.

The timing was certainly unfortunate. Whether the bill constitutes “amnesty” is largely a semantic issue, as the facts are not in dispute, but that label has been used as a rallying cry by the president’s opponents.

The ability to remain in the country legally after having skipped to the head of the line illegally is an undeniable boon. The proposed fine is less than the price many have paid to the “coyotes” to be smuggled across, so it’s not exactly a “significant punishment.” Still, it’s not a blanket amnesty in the way Simpson-Mazzoli was.

Taegan Goddard

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    “Misspoke” – but the president is just so articulate normally…

  2. Bandit says:

    It is what it is

  3. Bithead says:

    Every once in awhile, the obvious will slip out.
    And to the usual suspects, yes, I’m taking a chunk of George Bush. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.

    James: Your comparison to Simpson-Mazzoli is fairly valid, but leaves out the idea that the security provisions of Simpson-Mazzoli, were never enforced. And there’s the trend that’s causing most of the trouble;

    Add to the lack of enforcement in Simpson-Mazzoli to the idea that now have a promise of 700 miles of border fence whereas only something like eight miles have been biilt, and no more forthcoming anytime soon, and I suspect that we’ve been lied to enough on the security angles of various attempts to supposedly fix the problem, to justify some electorate skepticism…..?

  4. Bithead says:

    Speaking of trends, it occurs to me that we may have something of a trend going on here, regards the meanings of words.

    In this case, the word “amnesty” seems to be very unpopular with some people. I suppose it would, since they are trying to pass off this bill as not being amnesty.

    In a couple of other threads, recently the word “traitor” has come up and caused a number of tussles.

    Now, in strict accordance with the dictionary definitions of those words, the usage, is exactly correct. Yet those exercising that correct usage… well, you get the idea.

    Have we succumbed to politicizing the dictionary, now? Is that how desperate things have become, on both sides?

  5. Tano says:

    “Have we succumbed to politicizing the dictionary, now?”

    Jeez bithead, you are a piece of work.
    Politicizing the dictionary. Gee, where have you been for the last few decades?
    What do you think “spin” is all about? “Framing”. Dont tell me you havent read your Frank Luntz, nor benefitted from his work.

    No, I dont believe for one second that you are being sincere here. In fact you seem so deeply enmeshed in the spinning that you have lost all sight of reality. Amnesty means a blanket forgiveness of past wrongdoing. As was granted to draft dodgers after Vietnam, or to Southerners after the Civil War. One need not do anything for amnesty – it is a grant from the powers that be to relieve the condition of a specific group.

    A 13 year process, with fines, and standards is in no conceivable way an amnesty. It is more like a probationary sentence – keep clean for X number of years, make restitution if necessary regarding taxes etc, even pay a penalty and then, you can apply to be considered for citizenship.

  6. Bithead says:

    You clearly haven’t been actually reading what I’m writing, then, Tano. There’s major major difference between arguing from a particular angle, and completely redefining words. On that point, I think you misread the thrust of my comment, but perhaps to understand it, let’s lay the foundation:

    There is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant”. Either they are immigrants, who arrived here and live here legally, or they are illegals. The former, are entitled to everything that our society offers, provided that they are willing to become citizens, which by nature of the word, would include learning the language, and adopting the United States, culturally, as well as financially. The latter are entitled to nothing whatsoever.

    A 13 year process, with fines, and standards is in no conceivable way an amnesty.

    Your statement makes an incorrect and unsupportable assumption; that the people involved actually won a become citizens. if the people who are here illegally had any idea of that, they would have accomplished it years ago. that much is made clear by the advocacy groups for “illegal immigrants”. A large number, dare I say a majority, have no interest whatsoever in becoming citizens, they have no interest in adopting the culture, and therefore the supposed thirteen year probation doesn’t apply to them. They’ll never go through the process… by their choice.. but because of the way this laws put together, they can stay here. I don’t suppose you can see the negatives there?

    With one stroke of the pen, all the people who have been staying here illegally, are now legal. Poof, the problem of illegals is gone. Teddy Kennedy and his friends in Congress get to say they’ve worked hard to solve the problem. In fact all the data is made worse, of course they did come up with a bunch of new democrat voters, illegal or otherwise.

    But let’s take this bill as an example of what to do in other situations. By those lights, let’s repeal all drug laws, and suddenly the drug problem will go away… no more arrests no more jail time. Well, wait a tick… what about the problems those laws were designed to solve? Let’s eliminate all speed laws, and traffic laws. We should far too many tickets in this country. Making all traffic infractions legal would take care of the problem. Right? Well, again, wait a tick… what about the problems those laws were designed to solve? like for example traffic accidents.

    Point I’m making, in a roundabout way, is like it or not, those laws were established for good reason. To simply eliminate them as this bill seeks to do, (by allowing illegals to stay here illegally without going through the original process) defeats the original purpose of the law. That border’s there for a reason….

    Or, at least it was…

  7. Tano says:

    “There’s major major difference between arguing from a particular angle, and completely redefining words.”

    Yeah sure there is. Lets see what redefining words looks like.

    “There is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant”.”

    There ya go. An immigrant is someone who crosses a border in order to take up residence on the far side. If done in a manner contrary to law, that makes them an “illegal immigrant”. Not only is the meaning clear and unambiguous, it is also standard accepted usage for as long as I can remember. To suddenly declare – out of thin air – as you do, that the phrase has no meaning is completely absurd.

    Your assumptions about whether the illegal immigrants want to become citizens is made up also out of thin air. It is nothing but an opinion, and one that seems held for the main reason that it serves to advance your argument. What is your evidence that it is true?

    You are also rather inconsistent logically. If these people will not become citizens, then there is no danger of them becoming Democratic voters. You need to be a citizen to vote.

    “Point I’m making, in a roundabout way, is like it or not, those laws were established for good reason. ”

    Well, there you are completely wrong. Now I understand why you have the views that you do.
    One of the major imperatives that any immigration law should have addressed is the need to supply the country with sufficient numbers of workers to allow our economy to grow and develop as it needs to do. The facts have proven to be that over the past few generations our economy has had the need for millions of low-skilled workers to fill jobs in new and expanding businesses. I dont think you can argue that point – there is historically low unemployment (close to effective full employment), and the immigrants themselves are finding work. So there is work that needs to be done. If you dont have the workers to do it, then businesses will not expand or be created.

    The immigration laws have massivly failed to accomodate this need. The problem is basically political, in the worst sense of the word. It is politically popular to run for office promising to let the brilliant scientists and engineers from around the world into the country. It is not popular to promise to address the economy’s need for unskilled or low-skilled labor.

    But as free markets tend to do, the free market in labor has found its way to solve this problem, with our borders being merely an inconvenient bump in the road.

    Now you can look at this situation and claim we should bolster the border. But that doesnt solve the problem at all. If you are successful, all you will do is to dry up the supply of low-skilled labor and do great harm to our economy, as the cost of employing labor rises.

    It shouldnt be hard for you rightwingers to understand this. You make these arguments whenever the minimum wage increases become an issue. Believe me, the potential harm to small business is much greater from not having people to do the work, than having to pay them an extra buck an hour.

    People have voted with their feet, and have listened to the call of our economy. We should be enormously grateful to the illegal immigrants, because they have allowed our economy to flourish. Without their labor – in other words, if the misguided immigration laws had actually been enforced – we would all be the poorer.

    The problem that needs addressing are two. To regularize those people that are here now so that they do not live underground lives (a huge hassle for them and dangerous for all of us), and to insure that new immigration laws are sensitive to the ongoing needs of the economy.

    The conservative approach does neither of these things.

  8. Bithead says:

    There ya go. An immigrant is someone who crosses a border in order to take up residence on the far side. If done in a manner contrary to law, that makes them an “illegal immigrant”. Not only is the meaning clear and unambiguous, it is also standard accepted usage for as long as I can remember. To suddenly declare – out of thin air – as you do, that the phrase has no meaning is completely absurd.

    In any event; My take is secure the border first, and we can discuss the rest of it , one piece at a time. But as the last couple of paragraphs of indicated, you’re not exactly going to have an easy time of it.

    That it has been forced into common usage by people who want illegal immigrants here and taking jobs away from Americans, is beside the point… I’ve presented the evidence that places that phrase outside the bounds of reality. Again, if you have problems with that and its ramifications, I suggest you take up the conversation with Noah Webster.

    Your assumptions about whether the illegal immigrants want to become citizens is made up also out of thin air.

    Actually, no, it’s based on fact. Consider something with me, would you please? You’ve already stated that this process being put forward by this bill, would be harder for the immigrant to go through that is the current process. They go through the old one when it was easier, so what makes you think they’re going to one to become citizens now, when it’s that much harder to do? Particularly, when by a stroke of a pan, it’s completely legal for them not to go through that process?

    If these people will not become citizens, then there is no danger of them becoming Democratic voters

    Demonstrably incorrect.

    One of the major imperatives that any immigration law should have addressed is the need to supply the country with sufficient numbers of workers to allow our economy to grow and develop as it needs to do.

    Ah, yes, the old argument about “jobs Americans won’t do”. I would suggest that you have a conversation with the unions about that. But I would suggest to you that you should be wearing having at least, and preferably a bulletproof vest, when making such pronouncements in their midst.

    there is historically low unemployment (close to effective full employment)

    So, Mr Bush Isn’t responsible for what the democrats called prior to 9/11 came around and distracted everyone, “the worst economy ever” , huh?

    Interesting.

    Now you can look at this situation and claim we should bolster the border. But that doesnt solve the problem at all. If you are successful, all you will do is to dry up the supply of low-skilled labor and do great harm to our economy, as the cost of employing labor rises.

    Perhaps, but it that point we will have been able to control the border and allow we in those who we want in. We have no such control now. a nation’s first duty, is border security.

    It shouldnt be hard for you rightwingers to understand this. You make these arguments whenever the minimum wage increases become an issue. Believe me, the potential harm to small business is much greater from not having people to do the work, than having to pay them an extra buck an hour.

    And tell me, what’s going to happen with the low skill labor you’re telling us we need? I mean why is it needed? pay that is lwoer than the Min wage people like Teddy Kennedy keep pushing up. But…

    What happens when they’re suddenly legal, and suddenly all of the people who have been hiring illegals, simply because they are lower paid, fall under the minimum wage law? Isn’t the attraction for hiring such labor, that they can be paid well under minimum wage?

    I’m willing to bet you haven’t even considered that situation. Oops, huh?

  9. Tano says:

    Bithead,

    I still don’t see any sense in your claim that Noah Webster mandates that we call illegal immigrants “illegals”. “Illegals” is overly broad. What actions have they taken to be classified as “illegal”? Oh, they immigrated to the country outside of legal channels. Hmmm, so they are illegal….immigrants.

    I sense you are floundering around trying to redefine the phenomenon in some way that shakes up people’s thinking; i.e. to politicize the language in order to lend a little more momentum to your arguments.

    Careful, some people dont like it when you do things like that.

    As to citizenship. I have not claimed, as you assert that I did, that the process envisioned in the bill is harder than the current option. It is hard, no doubt. But it can be done while remaining here in the country working. So it is, obviously, a lot less hard than going through a process while remaining mired in poverty in ones native village, applying for a place that will probably never become available because there is inadequate provision in the law to meet the actual needs.

    I think that most will try to become citizens eventually, because they will make their life here, and it simply makes sense that one aspire to full participation in the society in which one lives. Not all will bother, but most probably will.

    So I do think you might have something to worry about when it comes to creating Democratic voters. But you will have at least a decade or so in order to wash out the taste of your present position from the memory of these people. Good luck.

    As to non-citizens and voting – well you seem lost in RW tinfoil hat land. Silly me, I clicked on your link. WorldNetDaily, Malkin….nuff said.

    Your comments regarding employment levels, unions and all that seem to be just floundering around trying to avoid the obvious. Warning me of the reaction of the unions, or snarking about criticisms leveled at Bush does nothing to rebut the point I made. Unemployment really is low. The illegal immigrants really are finding jobs. Businesses that employ them really do report trouble finding anyone else to do the job. You havent countered these points at all.

    It seems that you actually accept them. And even offhandedly concede that stemming the supply of this labor will hurt the economy. You think it is more important to “enforce the border”. OK – there is the tradeoff. You want to make some great effort to enforce the border, at the expense of the health of the economy. Why?
    What do you think you will have accomplished besides throwing the economy into a recession, with all of the attendant misery that brings?

    Would you at least insist that the new enforcement regime include a provision to allow for legal immigration of unskilled workers sufficient to meet the demand of the economy?

    And would you at least acknowledge that kicking the 12 million here now out of the country would be shooting ourselves in the foot, with regard to our economy, so that one must institute a mechanism to regularize these people?

    Maybe that could be the outlines of a compromise. Lets do all three at the same time.

    But to do nothing abut the underlying problem, and just focus on the border, would be economic madness.

    And, btw, illegal immigrants should be paid minimum wage, at least. The attraction of these workers is not greatly lessened by paying them the minimum wage. As y’all constantly inform us during these debates, most full-time adult workers already make more than the minimum based on the open market rate for labor.

  10. Bithead says:

    I still don’t see any sense in your claim that Noah Webster mandates that we call illegal immigrants “illegals”. “Illegals” is overly broad. What actions have they taken to be classified as “illegal”? Oh, they immigrated to the country outside of legal channels.

    That’s called ‘criminal’. We can use that, if you’d rather. Somehow, I don’t expect you will.

    I think that most will try to become citizens eventually

    Based on what, exactly? Oh.. I see. It is nothing but an opinion, and one that seems held for the main reason that it serves to advance your argument. What is your evidence that it is true?

    I sense you are floundering around trying to redefine the phenomenon in some way that shakes up people’s thinking; i.e. to politicize the language in order to lend a little more momentum to your arguments.

    In any event, your arguments are not so bulletproof as you think.

    Your comments regarding employment levels, unions and all that seem to be just floundering around trying to avoid the obvious. Warning me of the reaction of the unions, or snarking about criticisms leveled at Bush does nothing to rebut the point I made.

    ‘course it does. It exposes your arguments to something they’ve been lacking thus far; fact. What you’ve been arguing from, is consequentialism. You’ve been arguing from what, in your opinion, the end result will be… and arguing as if this representation was fact. For example, the projected , guesstimate it, reactions of actually treating illegals as such. Things don’t work that way in the real world.

    Out here in the real world, the illegals are finding jobs, because they’re willing to work at a lower pay level. Well, guess who mandated that excess of a level, in the first place thereby creating the demand? The Teddy Kennedy’s of the world.

    As to non-citizens and voting – well you seem lost in RW tinfoil hat land. Silly me, I clicked on your link. WorldNetDaily, Malkin….nuff said.

    So if you don’t like the new share brought, you shoot the messenger? How alarmingly typical.

    It seems that you actually accept them. And even offhandedly concede that stemming the supply of this labor will hurt the economy.

    So our economic future depends on a steady flow of people willing to work for under the minimum wage? That is after all, the logical consequence of which are arguing. What does this say about the logic of having a minimum wage in the first place?

    And would you at least acknowledge that kicking the 12 million here now out of the country would be shooting ourselves in the foot, with regard to our economy, so that one must institute a mechanism to regularize these people?

    There already was such a system. The problem was, it simply wasn’t being enforced. Still isn’t. The damage was done, when that lack of enforcement occurred. What you’re attempting to do, is minimize the consequences of that mistake. But that action in itself, is a mistake. One that will undoubtedly cause worse complications down the road. I don’t suppose the words “national sovereignty” ring any bells, Nor do they carry any weight in your world, I guess. But again, they exist for a reason. Unfortunately, I suspect that we as a nation are going to get a reminder as to why. I have very little hope, that the lesson won’t be painful .

    And, btw, illegal immigrants should be paid minimum wage, at least.

    And finally, we come to the crux of this.

    Newsflash; if that’s the requirement you’re going to lay on this whole thing, there will not be any motivation to hire illegals. I submit the only reason that they were hired in the first place was not because the jobs were going wanting, but because nobody wanted to pay minimum wage for those jobs. Indeed, given the paperwork involved, there will be less motivation for players to hire them, since they will require more in the way of man hours and paperwork to maintain as employees. You just made the entire discussion a moot point.