In an interview with John McCain yesterday, ABC’s Charles Gibson not only insisted that the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill amounted to “amnesty,” but challenged McCain for using any other phrase to describe it. Even after McCain repeatedly explained why it wasn’t amnesty, Gibson said, “Well, I’ll still argue it with you.”
Referring to the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill as “amnesty” is a favorite tactic of right-wing hardliners.
It’s not true. To earn citizenship under the McCain-Kennedy bill, individuals would not only have to admit their guilt in immigrating illegally and pay a $2,000 fine, but apply for a six-year temporary status, have a job, pay back taxes, consistently obey the law, and learn English. Nor could they “cut in front of the more than 3 million ‘green card’ applicants who have obeyed the law.”
Full transcript below:
GIBSON: Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is a key sponsor of the bill that came out of committee and he joins us exclusively from Washington. Senator, this bill, since it’s just happened in the last 24 hours, I want to get straight exactly what it does. As I understand it, this bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee effectively does grant amnesty to millions of immigrants who are now here illegally.
MCCAIN: Well, Charlie, that is just absolutely false. It allows them to earn citizenship. What it does, it takes a $2,000 fine. It requires a background check. It requires learning of English. It requires six years of working, and then elligibility for a green card and five years after that. That doesn’t fit any definition of amnesty. In fact, it’s very, very tough and that’s a major provision of it. That’s not amnesty. We tried amnesty in the 1980′s and it didn’t work.
GIBSON: At my peril, I get into an argument with the guy who has fashioned this bill over the definition of amnesty. But I said a moment ago, if they fulfill certain conditions which you outline, but if an illegal immigrant –
MCCAIN: That’s not amnesty. Then it’s not amnesty. Amnesty is forgiveness. This is payment of a fine. This is admission of guilt. This is working for years. This is learning English. This is passing a criminal background check. It’s not amnesty, ok?
GIBSON: If an illegal immigrant holds a job, passes a criminal background check, learns english and works for a certain number of years legally, he doesn’t have to go home, he can get citizenship in this country.
MCCAIN: Yeah, that’s right, and that’s as opposed to sending him or her back, many of whom have been here for 40 or 50 years — 11 million of them. That’s an impossibility, as we know. [...]
GIBSON: Senator, certainly, if you quibble over the word — or, you deny the word “amnesty” –
MCCAIN: I don’t deny it. I know what the definition of the word is. It means forgiveness. This is fine, penalty, working, passing background checks. It’s not amnesty, it’s earned citizenship. That’s what it is.
GIBSON: Alright, it’s earned citizenship, but it allows 11 million people now here illegally to earn it.
MCCAIN: Yes. [...]
GIBSON: How critical is it that the president sign on to this approach of what you call “earning citizenship” for people now here illegally.
MCCAIN: Thank you for the language.
GIBSON: Well, I’ll still argue it with you.