What Is Amnesty?

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Amnesty is defined as a legislative act that essentially makes the guilty party innocent. Unlike a pardon, which is excusing a person’s crime while having it retained in a legal record, amnesty literally “cleans the slate” of a person, leaving them completely innocent in the eyes of the law. The word “amnesty” is derived from the same root as “amnesia.” Typically, the term amnesty is used to refer to a variety of freedoms, and can be related to the freeing of prisoners. An amnesty bill provides amnesty to a broad population. Amnesty is often declared when it is more costly or difficult to bring one guilty party to justice, or when it would be more difficult to prosecute someone for previous offenses than to let them go. This type of deal is frequently considered when it can be used to make one “less” guilty party turn on a “more” guilty party, such as in organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons rings.

Currently, the idea of amnesty is causing tremendous controversy in the United States. Some politicians have proposed an amnesty bill, suggesting that illegal immigrants should be granted amnesty, and be allowed to become citizens—while the crime of their illegal entry into the country is forgotten. While proponents of this type of amnesty bill feel that by allowing illegal immigrants to be free within the country, certain crimes may be lessened. Critics of this proposal argue that by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, the immigrants are essentially, or at least in a way, being rewarded for their illegal actions.