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House of Representatives Struggles with "Amnesty" for Immigration Violators

The New York Times ran a piece this week on the prevailing sentiment among Republicans in the House of Representatives against passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. As leading lights in the Republican party have pressed the House to get on the same page with the Senate -- that is, match the bill which passed the Senate two weeks ago with similar legislation embracing not only border security and interior enforcement, but also legalization and citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. -- a number of House Republicans have gone on the record as saying that they will never support "amnesty" for law breakers.

Let's make one thing clear: the bill which passed the Senate last month is not amnesty. Amnesty implies that the government will give a pardon or free pass to people who have broken the law. In context, that means people who have entered the United States illegally or overstayed. The Senate's bill aims to deter illegal crossings by throwing billions of dollars at fortifying our nation's borders. It also makes it harder for those here illegally to make a living through imposition of strict employment eligibility verification requirements on employers.

Nor would legalization be automatic. Persons here without legal status would be compelled to pay fines and back taxes and meet other difficult requirements in exchange for the right to live and work here.

The point of comprehensive immigration reform, to my mind, is not to reward those who have flouted our immigration laws, but to create a legal framework which allows individuals to pay their dues to a country to which they have already contributed so much culturally and economically.

Our society is one of laws, and those laws have the primary purpose of making our communities safer. To that end, the Senate's bill creates a legal mechanism for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and regularize their status without fear of being discovered and deported. The House of Representatives should embrace immigration legislation as an opportunity to fix a broken immigration system and extend the same rights, duties and obligations of our laws to everyone who lives here.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.

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