Fact Check: Did Tillis Bill Provide Amnesty As His Challenger Claims?

Jun 12, 2019

Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker is challenging Senator Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for the 2020 election
Credit Garland Tucker Campaign

It’s our weekly check of North Carolina politics. This week we’re looking at next year’s race for U.S. Senate. Retired Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker is challenging incumbent Senator Thom Tillis in the Republican primary.  Appearing on the Sean Hannity Show last month, Tucker made this accusation about Tillis:

"He cosponsored a bill that not only provided amnesty, but provided a clear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants which I think is totally the wrong thing to do."

To see if that’s true or false we now turn to Elizabeth Thompson of the Raleigh News and Observer.

Thompson: He was actually referring to the Succeed Act which was put forward byTillis  in 2017 as a GOP friendly option for Dreamers and the DACA solution.

Terry: And of course with with Dreamers and DACA we're talking about the the Obama era program there and with Dreamers we're talking about immigrants who are brought here as children.

Thompson: Yes, they were brought here as minors before June 15, 2012, before they were aged 16.

Terry: So so what does the Succeed Act say exactly?

Thompson: It outlined a five step process to citizenship for these people who are brought here by their parents while they were minors. The first step of the bill would have eligibility requirements for conditional status which would just basically make the immigrants legal to be here, they wouldn't face any consequences. But then going on forward it would require them to obtain high school diploma or equivalent, pass a criminal background check, pay off existing tax liabilities, be of good moral character. All these things in order to even qualify for this. And then after that, they could apply for conditional permanent resident status. And they would have to maintain gainful employment, postsecondary or vocational degree or serve honorably in the U.S. military for at least three years, would have to reapply again for permanent conditional resident status. And then finally could apply for citizenship after 10 years of all this.

Terry: So then it was Tucker right. Does the bill provide amnesty?

Thompson: So there are basically two parts of the statement that Tucker made. One was that the bill supports amnesty and the other that it provides a path to citizenship.

So we talked with a couple of experts about what amnesty actually means. And they kind of had differing opinions on what exactly amnesty is and if this qualifies. But one thing that they did all point to was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act which was signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan. And it kind of serves as the standard for amnesty and immigration policy. It's what everyone really thinks about when they think about amnesty.

And this said that illegal immigrants could become legal permanent residents or green card holders as long as they could prove they were in the U.S. by January 1, 1982, had paid a $185 fine and back taxes and demonstrated good moral character. So this was extremely loose. It's not really anything compared to the Succeed Act which only applied to Dreamers and had a five step process in order to ultimately attain citizenship.

So we decided that it isn't amnesty compared to the 1986 IRCA, which was the Reagan era amnesty act. And while it did provide a pathway to citizenship it was only for a small group of people. And so this statement was misleading because of that.

Terry: Well what is a Senator Tillis have to say about Tucker's accusation?

Thompson: We talked with Tillis' people and they said that he does not support amnesty. And they pointed to the fact that when he and Senator Lankford proposed the Succeed Act it was part of a larger plan for border security. And that was the only reason why they made the kind of concessions from the GOP side was so the succeed act could only be passed if it were combined with a more stringent border security plan.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim then by Garland Tucker?

Thompson: We rated the claim mostly false for two reasons. So the first reason is that Tillis' Succeed Act only applied to people who are considered Dreamers, which were people who were brought to the United States before they were legally able to commit a crime. And since amnesty often has to do with forgiving a person for committing an illegal act and as someone who came to the U.S. while they were a minor they fall in a gray area under the law because they are not legal adults or legally able to commit a crime.

And the second reason is that the Reagan era IRCA of 1986 was a much less stringent policy which is the kind of gold standard of what amnesty means in the United States. So we decided it's mostly false because the claim is misleading and makes it sound like Tillis wanted to provide amnesty for a bunch of illegal immigrants who are coming to America. And that just wasn't the case.

Terry: That's Elizabeth Thompson of The Raleigh News and Observer. Her fact check is part of a collaboration between the newspaper PolitiFact and Duke University's reporters lab. You can hear our weekly fact check segment every Wednesday on WFAE's Morning Edition.

WFAE’s Morning Edition each Wednesday Fact Checks North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.