Brandon Crocker implies that those who call guest worker programs amnesty don’t “think words have meanings.” The definition he offers is “to overlook an offense without attaching any punishment.”
That strikes me as a too sweeping. The word is derived from amnesia, suggesting a forgetting of a past crime. Webster’s defines it as “an act of authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals. The Oxford English Dictionary offers “forgetfulness, oblivion; an intentional overlooking; a general overlooking or pardon of past offenses, by the ruling authority.” These don’t include “without attaching any punishment,” but a pardon does mean to act as though no crime had been committed. So strictly speaking, it’s not amnesty.
But if a law could be close to amnesty, the guest worker program would be. The McCain-Kennedy plan would require a $1000 fine and background check of all undocumented immigrants for them to stay and participate in the guest worker program. The fact that being here illegally was, well, illegal and required deportation is “overlooked.” In that sense, the past crime is overlooked and pardoned. In contrast, new guest workers must pay a $500 fine.
At the very least, the guest worker program would emphasize and codify that the U.S. wasn’t serious about the previous law. The past offense would be all but forgotten and the once illegal immigrant would be distinguished from new guest workers by the relatively nominal fee of $500. If that’s the price to pay for serious infractions of the law, non-amnesty is attractive!