President Bush has repeatedly said that he is not for providing “amnesty” to illegal aliens in the United States, but he has not always made clear exactly what he means by the word “amnesty.” White House spokesman Scott McClellan defined it this week, however, when I put the question to him at a White House press briefing.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “amnesty” as “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” McClellan, however, said that the President believes “amnesty” would be anything that “put someone on an automatic path to citizenship.”
In other words, legislation that grants pardon “to a large group of individuals” for entering and/or staying in the United States in violation of our immigration laws while converting all, or most, of them to legal guest workers without even making them first go home would not be an “amnesty” in the President’s view.
This is in sharp contrast to the view of Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the 90-member Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, who gave Human Events a definition of amnesty that seems consistent with the dictionary definition. “If you let people stay here, who are presently here after having broken the law getting here, if you let them stay for six years or any other amount of time, that is amnesty, because you are not applying the penalty to the violation of the law that is on the books,” said Tancredo.
When McClellan was asked how an amnesty defined as the President defines it differs from the President’s own proposal that illegal aliens be converted into guest workers, McClellan explained that participants “in a temporary guest worker program get in line [for the process of achieving citizenship] like everyone else.” (He did not explain how being here already was not being ahead of others “in line” to become naturalized American citizens. )
McClellan went on to underscore that the President supported strengthening border security, that he supported greater funding for the Border Patrol, and that this would be paid for by an increase in the airport fees paid by travelers. “It [the airport fee increase] is in the President’s budget,” McClellan told us.
When Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Sen. Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.) complained to him about being placed “in an extremely difficult place” by being asked to fund “an expansion of the Border Patrol … but being told that the funds to do that are going to be illusory.” Gregg argued that the funds are illusory because the increase in Homeland Security funding is tied to an increase in the airport fee, which Gregg said Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) would not allow to go through last year and is unlikely to allow this year.
I also asked McClellan whether the reduction in funding that the President has requested next year for the AmeriCorps program—which uses federal funds to pay “volunteers” (and which the President has called for phasing out over five years)—could be used for funding the Border Patrol. “Well, we continue to act in a way to better secure our borders,” McClellan said. “We’ve greatly increased the number of Border Patrol agents. The President also believes we need to pursue comprehensive immigration reform and there’s a commitment in Congress to do so, and that’s where our focus is.”