More ambiguous language uncovered in the Huckabee Pledge, and how to fix the Pledge
I pledge to oppose amnesty or any other special path to citizenship for the millions of foreign nationals unlawfully present in the United States.
Notice that he pledges not to extend citizenship to “the millions
of foreign nationals unlawfully present in the United States [italics added].” This would allow him to give citizenship to, say, thousands of illegal aliens, or tens of thousands of them, or hundreds of thousands of them, or even one million of them, without violating his Pledge. Indeed, the phrase, “the millions
,” could be easily interpreted to mean that amnesty consists of giving citizenship to ALL of the illegal aliens. Therefore, if Huckabee gave citizenship to, say, 10 million out of 12 million illegals, he would, on a narrow but not unreasonable reading of the language, not have violated the Pledge. (If you’re not yet persuaded on this point, see the below Note
Such ambiguity is totally unacceptable in a document that the American people are supposed to be able to take as a serious commitment by a presidential candidate, especially in this area, where politicians have tried to fool us so many times before.
Here is the kind of language that Huckabee ought to have used—language that eliminates all loopholes and ambiguity:
“I pledge to oppose any measure that would offer a path to citizenship, permanent residency, or other legal status to any foreign national unlawfully present in the United States.”
Instead of opposing citizenship
for “the millions
” of illegal aliens, as Huckabee’s Pledge does, this Pledge opposes legalization
illegal alien. Notice also that I leave out any reference to “amnesty,” a confusing word that can be played with endlessly. I use objective, descriptive language instead. Let us also remember that amnesty really means the removal of a punishment. Illegal aliens who receive legal permanent residence status in the U.S. are not just being relieved of a punishment, they are receiving an extremely valuable benefit that they never previously possessed. This is much more than a mere amnesty.
I understand, of course, that we can’t simply get rid of the word amnesty, given its popularity and its great usefulness in helping advance our side of the debate. However, as I argued last spring, every time amnesty opponents speak about the issue we should use the word “legalization” to make it crystal clear what we are talking about. As long as the undefined, mis-defined term “amnesty” keeps getting thrown around, politicians can keep fooling the public with their claim that they “oppose amnesty.” We must not allow them to do that. When a politician declares himself to be foe of amnesty, we should not accept his statement like obedient sheep. We should immediately ask him:
“Do you oppose the legalization of illegal aliens? Will you take a pledge to oppose giving legal status to any illegal alien?”
If we started using real words that correspond with real things, we could start making real progress on this issue.
Note: The ambiguity in Huckabee’s Pledge can be understood by reference to the controversy over the meaning of UN Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw “from territories” that it occupied in the 1967 war. When Israel’s enemies say that Israel is supposed to withdraw from all the occupied territories, Israel’s friends rightly reply that Resolution 242 says that Israel should withdraw from “territories” (without a definite article), meaning some but not necessarily all of the territories. If the Resolution had meant all of the territories, they continue, it would have called on Israel to withdraw from “the territories” that it had occupied. But it doesn’t do that. By the same reasoning, when Huckabee’s Pledge speaks of opposing amnesty “for the millions” of illegal aliens, that could be reasonably taken as meaning all of the illegal aliens. Which would mean that giving citizenship to some but not all illegals would not violate Huckabee’s Pledge.
- end of initial entry -
Howard Sutherland discusses the correct meaning of “amnesty.” This is something I addressed in an article last spring (no link at the moment), and I’ve added the point to the present article. But Mr. Sutherland’s argument still stands.
You and Irving Babbitt couldn’t be more right about the need to define terms. Today no term needs clear defining more than “amnesty” with respect to illegal aliens in the United States. On that basis, I have to contest the definition you give in your summary of the problem with the Hucksterbee (mis-spelling entirely on purpose) pledge.
You say: What amnesty means is that that illegal aliens get legalized.
Legalizing illegal aliens actually goes well beyond what amnesty properly understood would offer them. An amnesty suspends or commutes the punishment for an offense, usually in return for a pledge to stop violating the laws broken. Amnesty with respect to illegal aliens thus would mean no more than that the federal government decline to prosecute them for their violations of the federal immigration laws, provided they depart post-haste. Any concessions beyond that, especially permitting them to remain in the United States in any status, greatly exceed amnesty.
So a true amnesty for illegal aliens would be something on the order of decreeing that illegal aliens have 30 days voluntarily to leave the United States, and during that period the federal government will not prosecute voluntarily departing illegal aliens for their immigration violations. At the end of the amnesty period, the immigration laws would be enforced to the letter. A simple amnesty would grant no right to remain, only a limited time to leave without facing the prosecution one deserves. It certainly would contain no provisions allowing an illegal alien to achieve legal residency.
To grant legal status to illegal aliens, for whatever reason, is a gift well beyond amnesty, one most Americans do not want to give them. Beyond that, to put illegal aliens on any “path to citizenship” is, as you rightly point out, the self-destruction of American citizenship. To illegal aliens, and the fools who want to give it to them, “earned citizenship” appears to be the pearl beyond price. In fact, once illegal aliens become a significant portion of the American “citizenry”, that pearl will just be sand and we will all be unhappily together in the very third world mess the illegal aliens thought they were leaving. As it is, ever-growing stretches of America today look like the Mexico I worked in the 1970s, except they’re not as clean.
It’s a testament to just how severe our immigration crisis is (and I haven’t even mentioned the myriad variants of legalized immigration, which may destroy this country long before illegal aliens and their accomplices can) that those who take the National Question seriously would sing hosannas if the federal government did decree the simple amnesty I described!
Whenever this comes up, we need to keep reminding people of just what amnesty is, and how every proposal we have seen from any mainstream politician of either party gives illegal aliens much more than amnesty. HRS
I just want to point out that no matter what we say about it not being the right word, “amnesty will continue to be the word that is used. Maybe the way to deal with this is just to say that the meaning of amnesty has changed, and that what people mean by amnesty is legalization. That’s what it meant in 1986, and that’s what it means now. Yes, it’s not the proper meaning of the word, but in the context of this issue it is what people actually mean when they say amnesty.
Terry Morris writes:
Good catch. BTW, what constitutes a “special path to citizenship” to Huckabee’s mind, I wonder?
Also, thanks to Mr. Sutherland for correctly defining the term “amnesty” for us.
I think, though I’m not sure, that “special path” is a term that makes it sound as though the speaker is opposed to legalization, while leaving room for continuing legalization. I have no idea what a “special path” means. If your intent is not to legalize illegals, why bring in the idea of not legalizing illegals by a “special path”? It sounds like weasel language, allowing the speaker to legalize people so long as he doesn’t do it by a “special path,” whatever that is.
Terry M. replies:
I agree, it’s weasel language.
One thing we can know is that amnesty is one special path to citizenship according to Huckabee because of the way the sentence reads—”…to oppose amnesty or any other special path…” So I suppose you’re right when you say that we need to use the term as it is commonly understood today. That’s certainly the way Huckabee is using it in his sentence, that’s the only way it can be understood in context of his statement.
I think you’ve done it right. By publishing Mr. Sutherland’s proper explanation of the term “amnesty” you’ve acknowledged the term’s correct and original meaning. But you’ve also acknowledged that the term (as with many of today’s terms) has undergone a change to mean, in essence, a path to legalization. This is a corruption of the true meaning of the term, of course, and I don’t like it any more than anyone else does, but it is this idea that people associate with the term amnesty these days. Here again there are three minimal requirements for having intelligent conversation between minds: (1) a mind capable of transmitting a thought, (2) a mind capable of receiving a thought, and (3) a mode of communication common to them both (a language).
I’ve noted this many many times in the past, but generally when there’s a misunderstanding or miscommunication between parties, it is usually the third element where the problem lies; the terms used between the various parties involves different meanings for different parties involved in the conversation. My point is that there are a couple of means available to us for ameliorating the problem, either (1) we re-establish the proper meaning of the term amnesty in this case so that everyone understands it in its original meaning, a virtual impossibility particularly in the short term, or (2) we acknowledge that the term has undergone a change in meaning, and we use the term (for the sake of clarity in communication) as it is widely understood now. In the meantime, the original uncorrupted meaning of the term must remain intact for the sake of understanding its usage (particularly in legal documents) prior to 1986 or whenever this term came to mean legalization.
Richard W. writes:
I think you are over analyzing this. Very few people have the facility with words that you do. You are looking at this as if it were a contract that he’s going to take to a judge and use a sharp lawyer to nullify. In politics that’s not really needed, or possible.
Huckabee’s statement reads to the basic functional literate as “I WILL NOT GIVE AMNESTY.”
He could be lying, but if he gives amnesty he won’t be able to claim it’s not a broken promise.
Huck isn’t going to play the “it depends what you mean by is” game. And if he tries he will be met with the same derision that Bill was.
We don’t allow politicians to get away with word games. Remember “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Bush 1 tried to skirt that and lost an election.
Relax 1/2 a notch and have a nice Irish Whiskey and celebrate the fact that we’ve tortured one useful promise out of one leading politician.
It’s a fine days work and you should allow yourself to be happy before returning to savaging everyone tomorrow!
Richard undercuts his own purpose, i.e., getting me to relax, by also suggesting that I’ve been wasting my time in analyzing Huckabee’s Pledge.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 17, 2008 06:28 PM | Send
Does Richard really believe that it is of no significance that the Huckabee Pledge failed to mention the legalization of illegals—which is what amnesty is—and only precludes the granting of citizenship to illegals? Does he think it is of no significance that the Pledge could easily be read as precluding only the granting of citizenship to “the millions” of illegal aliens, i.e., to all of them, but not precluding the granting of citizenship to a very large number of them?
When we’ve seen politicians violating their commitments generally, and when we’ve seen the verbal games politicians have repeatedly and outrageously played with this vitally important issue in particular, and when we see a supposed solemn pledge from a presidential candidate that has the escape hatches built into it that this one has, then we have got to do some analyzing and figure out what it is that this pledge is really saying and also come up with better language that would close the escape hatches.
I did have a nice beer after getting Richard’s e-mail. Irish whiskey would have been even better.