No, Marco Rubio and Andrew Sullivan, Biden Didn’t Propose ‘Mass Amnesty’

President Joe Biden has not proposed mass amnesty legislation, but following the breadcrumbs of this story shows how certain Republicans will continue to feed misinformation to the xenophobes in their party.

“On immigration, [Biden] is way to Obama’s left, proposing a mass amnesty of millions of illegal immigrants, a complete moratorium on deportations, and immediate revocation of the bogus emergency order that allowed Trump to bypass Congress and spend money building his wall,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in his Jan. 22 newsletter, “The Weekly Dish.” A mass amnesty program “sends a signal to tens of millions in Central to South America to get here as soon as possible,” Sullivan warned.

I’m not sure how revoking Trump’s unconstitutional wall building executive order places Biden to the left of Obama, but let’s put that aside and focus on the mass amnesty claim. If Biden is proposing mass amnesty for millions of unauthorized immigrants, that would be a big story. “Why isn’t this being more widely reported?” I wondered.

If Sullivan were your run-of-the-mill right wing schmuck who typically spreads fake news, I might’ve assumed it false and moved on. But he’s an author I know and trust, and who will sniff out the bullshit on both the right and the left. So I followed Sullivan’s hyperlink to this Jan. 19 AP story, “Biden immigration plan opposed by GOP, conservative groups.”

“Republican lawmakers and conservative groups opposed President-elect Joe Biden’s forthcoming immigration plan Tuesday as massive amnesty for people in the U.S. illegally, underscoring that the measure faces an uphill fight in a Congress that Democrats control just narrowly,” the AP lede read.

Wow, there it is, right in the lede, the words “Biden’s forthcoming immigration plan” and “massive amnesty.” But wait, look closer. What it’s really saying is “Republican lawmakers and conservative groups opposed” Biden’s plan “as massive amnesty,” with “as” being the important modifier. The lede isn’t about Biden’s immigration plan, but Republican and conservative reactions to Biden’s immigration plan.

“Amnesty” is how Biden’s opponents, not administration officials, describe the plan.

“There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told AP.

The article also quotes Senators Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, describing Biden’s proposal as “total amnesty” and “mass amnesty,” respectively.

But what is Biden’s actual proposal? It turns out, we only know the basic outline because it hasn’t been made public yet. About halfway through the article, AP notes:

“Biden’s proposal would create an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants, set up a processing program abroad for refugees seeking admission to the U.S. and push toward using technology to monitor the border. The measure was described by an official from Biden’s transition team who described the plan on condition of anonymity.

“With an eye toward discouraging a surge of immigrants toward the U.S.-Mexico boundary, the package’s route to citizenship would only apply to people already in the U.S. by this past Jan. 1. But it omits the traditional trade-off of dramatically enhanced border security that’s helped attract some GOP support in the past, which drew criticism on Tuesday.”

A four-page fact sheet sent to reporters on Jan. 20 provides more details. To be eligible for citizenship, green card holders would have to undergo additional security and background checks, pay their taxes, and pass English and U.S. civics tests. The plan also proposes spending $4 billion to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

A pathway to citizenship is not amnesty. We’ve always had a pathway to citizenship, even under the Trump administration. The differences have more to do with who can be on that path and how easy or difficult that path will be. Reducing the amount of time it takes to become a citizen from 13 years to eight years, and providing a path for undocumented immigrants, would be significant, but it’s not amnesty and it’s not radical change. Plus, since the plan would only apply to those already in the U.S., it wouldn’t create the massive illegal immigration incentive that Sullivan is worried about.

As a matter of fact, Biden’s plan sounds similar to the 2013 “gang of eight” legislation Rubio himself helped author and pass in the Senate when Biden was vice president.

Defending his own bill in April 2013, Rubio noted, “This is not amnesty. Amnesty is the forgiveness of something. Amnesty is anything that says do it illegally, it will be cheaper and easier.”

But in labeling Biden’s immigration plan “blanket amnesty,” Rubio engaged in the same misleading tactic that his critics used against him in 2013.

A path to legal status is the compromise position. It’s the middle path between mass deportation and mass amnesty. And it’s the position supported by most Americans. Even 57% of Republicans and Republican-leaners in a June 2020 Pew Research survey said that undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should “have a way to stay in U.S. legally, if certain requirements are met,” which sounds close to the policy Biden is likely to propose. The details, such as whether that legal status can include citizenship, will be debated as the legislation makes its way through Congress, but the basic framework is the same one that Rubio previously supported.

When Cotton, Grassley, Rubio and other Republicans mislead voters into believing Biden proposed mass amnesty, they’re not seeking common ground solutions to immigration challenges, or to implement the will of the people. They’re just riling up the anti-immigrant bigotries in their party.

Political Analyst, Writer, Editor,

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