When an opponent of immigration reform starts throwing around the word “amnesty” you can safely disregard whatever follows. The term is meant to inflame and distort. It is in a class with “self-deport” and insults not only those who will be able to attain citizenship but also everyone else’s intelligence.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Amnesty is the forgiveness of wrongdoing without penalty, something President Ronald Reagan advocated and signed into law with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law essentially told those here illegally that if they had arrived in the U.S. prior to 1982 and wanted to become citizens, simply raise your right hand.

The current Senate bill has plenty of penalties and hurdles for those here illegally who seek citizenship. They must, for example, establish that they have been here since Dec. 31, 2011, and, in a provision likely to be toughened, prove their good moral character (e.g. no more than three misdemeanors and no felonies). They must pay $2,000 in fines: $500 when they surface, $500 if they want to remain in America after six years, and $1,000 when finally eligible to apply for a green card, as well as other processing charges to be determined. They must pay taxes and—unlike the 2.7 million illegals granted amnesty after the 1986 reforms—are barred from receiving any federal benefits, including welfare and ObamaCare.

To renew their temporary status after six years, those still waiting to become citizens must prove they’ve been steadily employed, paid all taxes, and aren’t on welfare. Before they get a green card, they must pass a test demonstrating their knowledge of English. And they must stand at the back of the line behind everyone who’s already waiting patiently and legally to immigrate here.

There is nothing in law or common sense that considers this to be “amnesty.” So why do opponents resort to the term? Well, why do they think immigration hurts the economy or it will be a drain on the Treasury (rather than a source of new tax revenue and a boon to Social Security)?

They may have convinced themselves of things that just aren’t so, as when the Heritage Foundation flipped from its 2006 analysis to a poorly conceived attack drafted by a researcher who thinks Hispanics have lower IQ’s. Some may be cynical, knowing this is a great way to stir up right-wing readers or gin up fundraising. And still others cannot bring themselves to do something for the country (and even the GOP) if President Obama might get some credit.

The reasoning behind their rhetoric is less important than to confront their nonsense point by point, with facts and specific provisions of proposed legislation. Those who are impervious to such things have already declared their opposition even before new border security language is introduced. So be it.

In truth, the people who are now critical to the bill’s passage don’t squawk from talk radio or belong to a zero-population group; the people to decide this are in the House and the Senate. Will Dems try to submarine a deal? Will solid conservatives like Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) take “yes” for an answer if border provisions are enhanced? Will the House members who blew it on Plan B to the fiscal cliff and made the original 2011 budget act worse (by rejecting a Senate version and then having to vote on a worse bill) insist on the unattainable, undermine their party’s leadership and miss an opportunity to do something constructive? On these questions the fate of the bill will turn. And, maybe, of the Republican Party.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.