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What is Immigration Amnesty?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Immigration amnesty refers to a governmental policy that allows immigrants who have entered a country illegally to gain citizenship. Amnesty is an incredibly controversial issue in the United States and other countries with high levels of illegal immigration. While critics believe that immigration amnesty rewards lawbreakers, proponents suggest that the current policies effectively ignore the issue at a high risk to national security and the legal system.

In terms of legislation, immigration industry has an often contradictory history. Between 1986-2000, the US Congress passed four Acts that allowed illegal immigrants to obtain legal residency based on the date of entry to the country and an application period. While these Acts served to allow some illegal immigrants to register for legitimate status, they did not change any permanent legal code to allow this type of registration to occur continuously. Moreover, since illegal entry did not significantly decline following these amnesty Acts, the number of illegal immigrants returned to pre-amnesty levels fairly quickly. As of 2009, experts estimate there are about 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, about 3.5% of the total population.

A complex issue, immigration amnesty is sometimes suggested as a means of securing citizenship for people that were raised in a country illegally. Often, parents will bring their children or infants across a border in hopes that the children will benefit from better education, a safer environment, and more career opportunities. Proponents of immigration amnesty suggest that it is unfair to deprive children of citizenship as adults, since the decision to cross the border illegally was not theirs to make.

The economic implications of immigration amnesty is another important topic buried in controversy. Illegal immigrants, working without the protection of labor laws, will often accept extremely low wages for their work, thus driving the costs of the industry down. Some fear that allowing this large workforce amnesty and thus the protection of wage minimums will lead to runaway cost increases, particularly in segments of the market such as food and manufacturing. On the other hand, permitting employers to pay below federal minimum wages for illegal workers is both illegal and possibly detrimental to a fair competitive market, since those that use illegal labor are essentially “cheating” the legal standards of business operation.

Immigration amnesty is a hot-button issue throughout both legal and political discussion. Despite the presence of many passionate and intelligent experts, about all anyone can agree on is that the situation is enormous and complicated. It is unlikely that one single law change will solve the multifaceted problem of illegal immigration, but rather that policy will develop through incremental changes to law over time.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
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Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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