Amnesty in Immigration: Forgetting, Forgiving, Freedom

Linda Bosniak
Date of Publication: 
June, 2013
Source Organization: 

"Amnesty in Immigration: Forgetting, Forgiving, Freedom" analyzes the meanings of "amnesty" in political discourse. The author identifies three separate, but sometimes overlapping, meanings, which she describes as forgive-and-forget, administrative reset, and vindication. "Forgive-and-forget" emphasizes the state's beneficence in granting pardon for the initial offense, as well as the seriousness of the original offense, often prompting the state to set qualifying conditions for amnesty, e.g. fines, loss of benefits, community services, public apology, etc. The second amnesty model called "administrative reset" is often predicated on the notion that the law in question is "largely unenforceable;" hence, it is in the state's interest to reach an agreement with transgressors. This sort of amnesty often occurs in a regulatory environment, such as tax collections or fines. The third model ("amnesty as vindication") carries with it an "acknowledgement by the government that either the violated rule or norm, or the beneficiary's prosecution for it, was not justifiable in the first place." There is a "reframing" of the original behavior, such that it appears "comprehensible, excusable and, perhaps, justifiable."  

In the context of the current immigration debate, the author sees the three models shaping the perspectives of participants and therefore "cut(ting) in various directions."  However, she feels that the "center of gravity" of the current debate lies somewhere between forgive-and-forget and administrative reset. Even among immigrant advocates, there is a general consensus that some form recompense must be paid for the original violation of immigration law. Although most political theorists also support immigration amnesty, they generally use a "time and ties" argument, rarely calling into question the legitimacy of the original laws; nor do they "interrogate the validity of the state's underlying border norm." The author concludes by laying out four arguments that could be used to frame immigration amnesty as "vindication." (Abstract courtesy Nicholas Montalto, PhD.)

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Bosniak, L. S. "Amnesty in Immigration: Forgetting, Forgiving, Freedom" (June 24, 2013). Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP), Volume 16, No. 3 (2013) (Special Issue: The Margins of Citizenship):344-365. Available at SSRN: