In her story, "CRS Report of the Week: The President's Immigration Accountability Executive Action," Colby Itkowitz of In The Loop writes:
[D]espite some accusations from opponents that the action is a form of amnesty, CRS writes, "individuals granted deferred action would not be provided with a pathway to a lawful immigration status, however, and DHS has the discretion to terminate the grant of deferred action at any time."
So much is made in the media about whether something is amnesty or not that I'm surprised Itkowitz didn't employ the usual scare quotes around the word. "Amnesty" wasn't always a considered a bad word. The most famous immigration amnesty was the 1986 bill signed by President Reagan. That bill promised a one-time amnesty in exchange for enforcement that would prevent future illegal immigration. Nearly 30 years and several amnesties later, the word itself has become synonymous with "betrayal" or "failure."
We no longer debate whether or not amnesties stop illegal immigration. We debate whether or not something constitutes an amnesty. Proponents of large-scale legalizations fear the scarlet "A" getting attached to any of their proposals. Itkowitz and many others view anything short of a path-to-citizenship as a non-amnesty. Others say anything short instant citizenship (i.e. a "path to citizenship") is a non-amnesty. Webster's dictionary defines amnesty as "A pardon for past criminal offenses for a class or group of individuals who are subject to trial but have not yet been convicted."
Reporters don't have to take a side. They don't even have to use the word "amnesty" outside of quoting someone. They just have to accurately describe the policies and let readers decide for themselves.
E.R. Shipp, the former ombudsman for the Washington Post, said "No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance." I ask you: is the issuance of work permits, enabling the beneficiaries of Obama's executive actions to compete with American workers for U.S. jobs a fact of major importance or significance? If anyone in the media argues "no," I would like to hear it.
Most stories about Obama's executive actions fail Shipp's fairness test. But Itkowitz sets an examples others can follow. She writes:
Now, Obama’s post-midterm election executive actions spanned several initiatives, which are all covered in the report, but the most controversial was his decision to defer deportation of as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants. To qualify for deferment, an individual must be the parent of a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs), have lived continuously in the United States since before Jan. 1, 2010, and pass other background checks.
As the CRS explains, the expansion allows them to stay in the United States legally, and work if they get employment authorization, without fear of removal for three years.
There is more to the executive actions than that but Itkowitz gives at least mentioned work authorization. On the question of whether President Obama has issued an amnesty Itkowitz needn't have weighed in with her own judgment. She gave us enough to make up our own minds.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Program for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Feb 10th 2015 @ 11:20am EST