Political Hay

Why We Call It “Amnesty”

They're not called illegals for nothing.

By 6.2.06

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The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday voted out a bill on the hot-button issue of illegitimate transfer agents, with two Democrats joining the Republican majority in endorsement of the legislation. The bill requires transfer agents to pay a fine, register for rehabilitation classes in property rights, and pledge not to wear Halloween or ski masks in financial institutions and not to write threatening notes to cashiers.

"These are hard-working Americans who pay their taxes and are only trying to support their families," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D-Mass.). "Calls for their imprisonment are mean-spirited and impractical. We cannot arrest and jail twelve million transfer agents. It would be a form of cultural genocide."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), responding to a chorus of criticism from the House Republican caucus, said, "This bill is absolutely not an amnesty. The average amount of an illegitimate transfer, according to FBI statistics, is less than $600. In most cases, the transfer agents would pay a fine larger than that."

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES scheduled a vote on the high-profile issue of alternate drivers for later this week. The final version of the bill would require alternate drivers to take a course in motor vehicle credit and savings techniques, and to sign up for "how-to" instruction in reading and using classified advertisements. Signees would also be offered classes in evaluating used cars and bargaining for their purchase.

An amendment supported by insurance companies, which would have provided for education in buying motor vehicle insurance, was defeated in committee.

Insurance industry groups were split on the most contentious of the bill's elements, which dealt with the post-alternate-driver possession of the motor vehicle. Alternate driver hawks sought to compel A.D.'s to return the vehicle to its original owner. Many insurance representatives thought the industry would be better served by letting the A.D. keep the car, thus "totaling" it and identifying both the current and former possessors of the vehicle as customers for new insurance policies.

THE ADMINISTRATION THIS WEEK UNVEILED its proposal for dealing with shortcut shopping, which has become an election year wedge issue. Hardliners on shortcut shopping have sought to claim the legal high ground by insisting on strict enforcement of existing laws.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) said the hardliners are "promoting an agenda that is arguably racist and classist. Shortcut shopping serves to redress obscene corporate profits. And in a desperate America where there is one set of rights for the poor and a different set of rights for the rich, shortcut shopping provides the poor with sometimes their only choice when they must balance the need for food against the need for expensive prescription drugs."

A draft of the President's speech proposing the legislation was circulated yesterday. Retail trade associations pounced on the proposal's lack of any disposition for shortcutted merchandise.

"So far as we can tell," said one industry spokesman, "the shortcut shoppers get to keep it."

THESE FICTIONAL PIECES OF LEGISLATION illustrate the ridiculousness of one part of the debate over illegal immigration. We have lost sight -- as we have lost sight of so much else -- of the essential "goodie" in the immigration question: the presence of a person in the United States. Like the money from the bank, the stolen car, or the shoplifted merchandise, such a possession cannot be left to someone who has stolen it.

You cannot take back presence in the United States from someone here and still leave that someone here. Any legal measure that does leave that someone here is an amnesty, as clearly an amnesty as allowing a bank robber to keep the loot, a car thief to keep the car, or a shoplifter to take home the merchandise.

Just a reminder.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.