When immigration advocates call for legalization and a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, opponents brandish the word “amnesty,” as if it was comprised of only four letters. Congress ignores the issue indefinitely rather than face it head on. Yet when it came to passing into the law the recent changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that same body overwhelmingly set three insidious precedents: 1) amnesty is perfectly fine for the rich and powerful; 2) our respect for the law can be mitigated by our ability to change the law and apply it retroactively; 3) protecting our freedom is so important that it justifies betraying those very freedoms in the first place. All in all, the bill’s passage into law is an act of hypocrisy and recklessness.
“Amnesty” is defined as “a general pardon, especially for those who have committed political crimes” or “a period during which crimes can be admitted or illegal weapons handed in without prosecution.” That’s what critics call any measure to legalize undocumented immigrants. Through spinning and positioning, immigration opponents have created a perception that offering such a pardon to immigrants would be a sign of weakness, a capitulation to their lawbreaking ways, undermining the rule of law in our nation and setting a dangerous precedent. Hmm. Why does that sound exactly like what the Bush White House and the conspiring telcom companies have garnered. Except, again thanks to the wondrously effective practice of spinning, the warantless wiretapping and illegal telcom eavesdropping has been positioned as anti-terrorist surveillance and a national security imperative. Let’s face it though, it’s also amnesty for the chosen few. Why pardon AT&T, Verizon and Sprint by an overwhelming margin while denying the American Dream to millions of immigrants? Maybe because the telcom giants are political powerhouses that wield untold influence in Washington, D.C. According to research published by Maplight.org*: 94 Democrats in the House of Representatives flip-flopped on the issue over the last three months, initially opposing the amnesty measure but eventually deciding to vote for the retroactive immunity. Of those 94 Democrats, 88 percent received PAC contributions from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint during the last three years. On average, the Democrats who changed their position each received $8,359 in contributions as compared to $4,987 per Democrat who remained opposed. Among all House members voting on June 20th, the contributions averaged $9,659 to each member of the House voting “YES” (105-Dem, 188-Rep)
$4,810 to each member of the House voting “NO” (128-Dem, 1-Rep). This I’m sure is just the tip of the iceberg, to which we can add the massive pressure by the lobbyists at work for the telcom giants on Capitol Hill. All of it simply goes to prove that amnesty can indeed find a viable home on the Hill, as long as it’s not for hard-working, impoverished immigrants from Latin America but rather for the deep-pocketed multi-billion dollar companies and those they pay to fix the laws in their favor.
The all-important “rule of law” is always tossed about as a sacred cow when pundits and politicos debate immigration. We are a nation that respects the rule of law, the argument goes. So granting amnesty to immigrants undermines the rule of law and could render us a nation of lawbreakers. Chaos would ensue. Kind of like it has in our interrogation methods and our treatment of foreign prisoners or anyone suspected of possible terrorist inclinations due to their heritage, religion, name or associations. Law good. Chaos bad. Unless the chaos helps the rich get richer. Now that the Bush White House and Congress have invented their legal time machine, maybe they’d like to go back in time and make Watergate legal too. Someday Richard Nixon, Scooter Libby, and the CEO’s of AT&T, Verizon and Sprint can all have a good laugh over this in Heaven, unless the final judge does not share our general support of retroactive immunity. Either way it seems like a very dangerous precedent. According to the New York Times on June 20:
“Perhaps the most important concession that Democratic leaders claimed was an affirmation that the intelligence restrictions were the ‘exclusive’ means for the executive branch to conduct wiretapping operations in terrorism and espionage cases. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had insisted on that element, and Democratic staff members asserted that the language would prevent Mr. Bush, or any future president, from circumventing the law. The proposal asserts ‘that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the president of the United States,’ Ms. Pelosi said.”
But if that law can be changed and immunity applied retroactively, as this precedent implies, then how strong is it or any law? How immune is the rule of law to the retroactive influence of major powerbrokers? This decision renders it quite vulnerable in my opinion.
Finally, the whole point of this law is supposedly to help protect our freedoms and our lives from terrorists. But in doing so, we ourselves our compromising those freedoms. The irony is obvious to anyone with half a brain. The tragedy is that in giving in to fear over freedom, we are capitulating as Democratic Senator Russ Feingold said. But not just to the White House and the telcoms, to those who would strike fear in our hearts, those who know that succeeding in changing American culture and law is as powerful as knocking down a couple of tall buildings and extinguishing a few thousand lives. Our surrender to terror happened not on September 11th; it happens every day we vote away our freedoms for fear. And it happens every day we close our hearts and our borders to those seeking not forgiveness but opportunity to build a better life for themselves and in the process a stronger America for all.
*MAPLight.org’s research department findings are based on the combination of contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) with voting data from THOMAS via GovTrack.us.