5 myths about amnesty for illegal immigrants in Senate bill

Under a bipartisan Senate immigration bill, immigrants who have come to the United States illegally are given a "path to citizenship." On close inspection, each of the following five claims about the requirements for illegal immigrants to earn amnesty are not what they seem.

5. They must go to the back of the line

Most illegal immigrants who claim to be eligible for this amnesty will be allowed to stay in the country and will be given time to apply. Those approved for provisional legal status under the amnesty (i.e. those who have passed the background check and paid the provisional $500 fine) will be immediately entitled to a work permit, a Social Security account, travel documents, drivers’ licenses, many federal public benefits, and many additional state-level benefits.

While the green card may be delayed for a period of years and would require – to the extent described above – payment of the remaining fines, resolution of any pre-existing problems with the IRS, and proof of learning some English, it is undeniable that those who receive legal status through the amnesty are in a much better position compared to those overseas who have applied to come to the US legally.

Consequently, amnesties encourage illegal immigration by sending the message around the world that illegal entry is a legitimate path to US citizenship. The US Border Patrol chief recently testified to Congress that even the discussion of the amnesty has already led to increases in illegal immigration.

The amnesty applicant is only in the “back of the line” in the sense that the green card – and eventual US citizenship – would allegedly be delayed until after all existing green card applications are processed. But the fact is, the real back of the line would be in the illegal immigrant’s home country.

It remains unclear how each of these requirements for citizenship would be administered. If there is to be an amnesty, all requirements must be made more serious and each should be met at the outset before illegal immigrants receive any type of legal status or work permit. But ultimately, enforcement of immigration laws, rather than mass legalization, is the only legitimate response to the problem. 

Jon Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

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