Illegal immigrants should not be eligible for amnesty, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argued Tuesday night.
In the debate — which asked whether illegal immigrants to the United States should be granted citizenship and was sponsored by the Yale Political Union — Gonzales argued that citizenship should be limited to native-born individuals, and those who apply through formal channels. Gonzales, a son of Mexican immigrants, served as attorney general during the second Bush administration and has adopted a controversial stance on immigration policy that stresses strict obedience to the letter of the law.
Still, Gonzales supports immigration reform that would allow undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. to become eligible for citizenship through a defined pathway that avoids full amnesty.
“As former Attorney General and a citizen who believes in the rule of law, I cannot condone anyone coming into this country in an unlawful status,” Gonzales said. “[But] if we want to stop [illegal immigration], we should stop and enforce comprehensive immigration legislation rather than amend our Constitution.”
However, Gonzales was quick to note that immigrants with questionable legal and criminal status should be denied any pathway to citizenship. With the exception of children who were brought to the U.S. against their will, Gonzales said that amnesty should be avoided at all costs.
Despite these views, Gonzales suggested a pathway for current illegal immigrants to gain citizenship. He said that if the undocument immigrants paid a fine, had no criminal record, were employed and had formed established roots in their communities, they could apply for legal status. While Gonzales conceded that some critics have found his suggested policy reform to be similar to outright amnesty, he argued that the four conditions include no official pardon for breaking federal law.
“Some proclaim that finding a pathway to citizenship as I describe is a form of amnesty,” Gonzales said. “I couldn’t disagree more. Amnesty defines that a government authority pardons a large group of individuals.”
Gonzales added that to discourage new immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally, the southern border should be further secured.
Following Gonzales’ remarks on immigration, several speakers of the YPU volunteered to share their opinions on citizenship and its role in communities.
Ella Wood ’15, a member of the union’s Independent Party, argued that an individual’s citizenship should be evaluated by his or her relationship with the community and not by obedience to federal law.
Ugonna Eze ’16 of the Conservative Party agreed with Wood, adding that individuals become citizens when they form meaningful relationships with their societies.
Audience members interviewed said that they found Gonzales’ remarks controversial.
“[The talk] offered a very family-valued argument on citizenship, which was kind of displeasing,” said Isaac Pena ’18. “He was arguing for a sub-citizenship class, which is hugely problematic to open the path to standard citizenship.”
While Victorio Cabrera ’18 said Gonzales expressed reasonable opinions on limiting illegal immigration, he noted that the social justice issues that immigrants — both undocumented and documented — face in the United States should have played a more prominent role in the debate.
Gonzales served as Attorney General from 2005 to 2007, and was White House Counsel to President George W. Bush ’68 from 2001 through 2005.