An amnesty may be extended when the authority decides that bringing citizens into compliance with a law is more important than punishing them for past offenses. Amnesty after a war helps end a conflict. While laws against treason, sedition, etc. are retained to discourage future traitors during future conflicts, it makes sense to forgive past offenders, after the enemy no longer exists which had attracted their support but a significant number remains in flight from authorities.
Amnesty is often used to get people to turn in contraband, as in the case of China's gun restrictions, or the Kansas City ban on pit bulls. Advantages of using amnesty may include avoiding expensive prosecutions (especially when massive numbers of violators are involved); prompting violators to come forward who might otherwise have eluded authorities; and promoting reconciliation between offenders and society.
An example of the latter was the amnesty that was granted to conscientious objectors and draft dodgers in the wake of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, in an effort by President Carter to heal war wounds. (There was no longer a war to protest, and there was no longer a draft to dodge.)
An example of an argument made for amnesty for undocumented immigrants is that they would be allowed to qualify for higher paying jobs, scholarships, and other services. According to the Center for Study of Immigration Integration, if California alone were to adopt an amnesty program, they would benefit by $16 billion (Pastor, 2010).
Workers who lacked a high-school diploma in 2006 earned an average of only $419 per week and had an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent. In contrast, workers with a bachelor’s degree earned $962 per week and had an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent, while those with a doctorate earned $1,441 and had an unemployment rate of only 1.4 percent (Gonzales, 2010).
Changing a law is a better way to achieve whatever benefit an amnesty offers, if a nation determines that the law has made criminals of people who have done no harm, or deprived the nation of a benefit, and will in the future. Changing a law allows new conditions and requirements, offering more control over the results of any change, than amnesty.
Amnesty can at times raise questions of justice. An example was the Ugandan government's offer not to prosecute alleged war criminal Joseph Kony, in hopes that further bloodshed would be avoided. David Smock noted, "The downside of it is the impunity that it implies; that people can commit atrocities and say that they will only stop if they are given amnesty..."
A controversial issue in the United States is whether illegal immigrants should be granted some form of amnesty. It is proposed that illegal immigrants be able to come forward and immediately receive probationary status. This is criticized as being a reward for breaking the law. California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said an amnesty program similar to the one the federal government undertook in the late 1980s would be ill-advised today. It just didn't work.
"It backfired big-time. It sent the wrong message: You come here illegally, and then we go and give you amnesty. So then, the next million come and they say, 'Hey, we get amnesty, this is really terrific (Press, 2005).(wikipedia.org)
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