McCain voted for a bill that everyone agrees was an amnesty in 1986, and doesn't seem to have any particular regret about that vote. Back in 2003, he endorsed another amnesty for illegals:
McCain publicly embraced amnesty for years before it caused him to get his political head handed to him. “Amnesty has to be an important part because there are people who have lived in this country for 20, 30 or 40 years, who have raised children here and pay taxes here and are not citizens. That has to be a component of it,” he told a Tucson newspaper in 2003. “I think we can set up a program where amnesty is extended to a certain number of people who are eligible and at the same time make sure that we have some control over people who come in and out of this country...”Since then, supporters of amnesty apparently decided that amnesty was too unpopular, so they would redefine the term so that what they advocated didn't meet the new definition.
So what is amnesty? The dictionary defines it as "a general pardon". That is, amnesty is not taking the appropriate steps to rectify a crime or other offense. If aliens enter this country, the appropriate action to rectify their crime is to deport them, or create such conditions that they leave on their own. Thus any plan that allows illegal aliens to stay is amnesty.
Supporters of amnesty counter that amnesty is not really amnesty because they would require illegals to pay a fine, or jump through various other hoops. There are several things wrong with this argument. It ignores the fact that the illegals should not be here in the first place. Paying a fine doesn't make up for that. Second, it has been estimated that the market value of American citizenship would be something like $100,000. Third, becoming legal entitles immigrants to many government benefits, which makes the fine even more of a joke. Fourth, what are supporters of amnesty going to do with illegals who don't pay the fine? Deport them? Then why can't they do that now?
Actually, the 2007 McCain-Kennedy bill was even worse. It offered not only amnesty but citizenship to illegals. Amnesty means allowing them to stay legally, but citizenship actually rewards their illegal behavior. The fine would only have applied to those seeking citizenship. McCain-Kennedy would have allowed most illegals to get a "temporary Z-visa" which could be renewed indefinitely, making it about as temporary as most government programs. This amnesty would have come without any of the strings that supposedly would make it not amnesty.
The evidence shows that the claim that the McCain-Kennedy bill is an amnesty, and that claiming otherwise is deliberately misleading. Conservatives should beware of those making such claims.