Semantic Innovation in Immigration Reform

Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part:

The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill.

This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation.

Genius! Seriously. For a while now, nobody has been really sure what to call the provisional legal status immigrants would have between the time the bill is passed and the time they're eligible for a green card—the best anyone could come up with was "provisional legal status," which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. And if we've got to come up with a new term, why not make it something that makes passage of reform more likely?

As I've discussed before with regard to the "make them learn English" requirement, people have conflicted feelings about immigration, and there is a very large portion of the public that could go either way on reform. One of the things that helps is if you convince them that we're being "tough" and not just letting a bunch of scofflaws waltz in over the border to take those plum dishwashing and roofing jobs. Calling the provisional legal status "probation" is a way of saying, "Don't worry, we're treating these folks like criminals."

And even if its main purpose is so Republican members can go back home and say, "I didn't vote for amnesty! Hell no, I voted for probation for illegals!" then so be it. If it means the bill can get a little closer to passage, it'll be worth it.

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