“Amnesty” is the swear word many conservatives apply to the new bipartisan immigration bill. The same invective was used to sink the last major attempt to change American immigration laws, during President George W. Bush’s second term. Some critics say that offering legal status to illegal immigrants is simply wrong in principle.
Yet that isn’t the most troubling aspect of the bill. What ought to be drawing more opposition is the proposal to bring hundreds of thousands of “temporary guest workers” to the U.S.That’s not to deny that legalization poses risks of its own. If enforcement of the laws is lax, it could encourage more people to come here illegally in the hope of the next round of legalization. If we can be reasonably assured of strong enforcement, on the other hand, offering legal status to many or most undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. may be the best way to handle past policy mistakes. Although there’s room to argue about whether the bill offers this assurance, I think Senator Marco Rubio and other supporters of the legislation are right in principle to offer legal status.