Detractors of immigration reform legislation managed to defeat an effort to get it through Congress in 2006 and 2007 partly through publicly deriding the proposals as “amnesty bills,” defining the legislation as efforts to give illegal immigrants a penalty-free opportunity to remain in the United States.
As such, the word “amnesty” came to define an unpopular political cause, which helped to drive several US Senators who supported immigration reform in 2006 to vote differently in 2007. The word amnesty literally means a pardon for a large group of individuals, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Now that President Barack Obama is president and Democrats have taken control of Congress, supporters of renewed efforts to formulate an immigration reform package (such as one currently being drafted by Sen. Chuck Schumer [D-NY]) have invoked words such as “legalization” when describing immigration reform to sidestep the negative connotations of amnesty.
But does “legalization” denote something different than “amnesty” when used in the current US immigration reform debate?