Yesterday at a forum on immigration sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said the Senate's Gang of Eight bill "is not amnesty" because "amnesty is wiping the slate clean and not paying any penalty for having done something wrong."
We beg to differ, Mr. Chairman.
Much of the debate in Washington has focused on how and when illegal immigrants receive permanent legal resident (PLR) status, commonly referred to as a green card, which then funnels into citizenship. While proponents correctly note that process will take up to 15 years, it is the wrong focus.
The appropriate focus is on the process of acquiring registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status. This legalization process begins when the Secretary of Homeland Security submits two plans to Congress, a mere six months after enactment, and is open to nearly every illegal immigrant who has been physically present in the country before January 1, 2012. After acquiring RPI status, formerly illegal immigrants will have legal status in the United States, allowing them to work, live, and travel abroad.
Now some have suggested the inclusion of a $500 fine that accompanies the application for RPI status, which lasts for six years (and can be renewed for another six for an additional $500), is definitive proof the bill is not amnesty. Paying $7 per month for "earned legalization" seems like a bargain, especially when you consider there are more than four million people waiting to come to America to work and live here legally.
If the Gang of Eight's bill becomes law, individuals who complied with the law - left the country when their visa expired, are still waiting in line, etc - will not be eligible for RPI status. Only those in the country illegally will be eligible to apply for a status that allows them to, almost immediately, live and work in the country. Not only will illegal immigrants have their slates wiped clean, they will receive a near-immediate benefit as a result of their illegal status.
Chairman Ryan offered to "debate anybody who tries to suggest that these ideas that are moving through Congress are amnesty." That is a conversation we would welcome.