Exercising amnesty is a tradition in American history. Perhaps its because one grants amnesty from a positions of strength and generosity which are universal American characters. Presidents and Governors have granted amnesty and pardons since the founding of our country. Within the immigration context of course, Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. President to grant amnesty to about 3 million undocumented immigrants.
So why did Reagan do it? Perhaps its because he was also a Californian. He knew intimately how immigrants had enriched the culture of California and shaped its ingenuity. He brought millions out of the shadows and lessened the chances of them being mistreated or abused. He gave them rights.
Reagan is a giant in the American conservative arena. He understood that we are traditionally - and not just rhetorically - a nation of immigrants. That immigrants have value beyond the billions of dollars they pay in taxes. Indeed, immigrants of all eras have made America the amazing country it is today.
What inspired Reagan to fight for and win on his amnesty bill, was a deeply held belief and not just a political talking point. He said as much during a 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale when he so eloquently stated: "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally."
President Reagan's courage is not limited to a bygone era. Even today - in the highly charged primary world of the Republican party - there are courages candidates who employ logic in their acknowledgement and reasonable analysis of the immigration issue. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - a Candidate for U.S. Presidency in 2016 - and one of the authors of the immigration reform bill which passed the Senate in 2013 is a supporter of amnesty as he defines it. Senator Graham was recently quoted saying:
"But as to the 11 million: Criminals not welcome. Non-criminals, people who just violated the immigration laws, can stay here on our terms, not theirs. They have to learn our language, pay taxes, get in the back of the line, and not become a citizen ahead of the people who have been doing it right -- a 10-year ban before you can even apply for a green card."
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