'WHATEVER': Sen. John Boozman, asked to define amnesty, struggled for a definition. KUAR

Slate’s Betsy Woodruff had a good idea — ask Republicans what they mean when they throw around the word amnesty.

The messaging works. To the listener, it means bad immigration policy, perhaps even coddling of dirty, low-down criminals.


But what does it really mean? Among the Republicans sought for comment was Arkansas’s soon-to-be senior U.S. Sen. John Boozman:

I then asked Arkansas’ Sen. John Boozman what he meant when he used the A-word.

“It’s behavior that you don’t want to reward,” he said. “And so if somebody enters the country illegally and then is given the ability to move to the front of the line, as opposed to somebody who goes through the normal process, then I would call that amnesty.”

“It would be a pathway to citizenship,” he said.

According to that definition, the president’s executive action on immigration is not amnesty.

“The sticking point would be in the details,” Boozman added. “That might require whatever.”

The president has indicated he might shield immigrants from deportation and obtain work permits. Woodruff’s summary of Republicans to whom she spoke:


Some of the top legislators who frequently use the term can’t actually explain what amnesty is. I spent the past few days asking Republican senators what they meant when they referred to amnesty in terms of immigration policy. The answers I got were intriguing. That’s because while Republican congressional leaders are always eager to discuss their opposition to this vague, amorphous concept, many of them are downright befuddled when asked to explain what that concept looks like in real life. Their responses ranged from straightforward to nonsensical.