Immigration

What You Need To Know To Win An Immigration Argument With Your Right-Wing Uncle This Thanksgiving

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Actual Thanksgiving dinner served at a wonderful conservative's house that this reporter went to.

It’s 4 p.m. this Thursday and you’re back home for the holiday. The smell of pumpkin, turkey, and butter permeate the air, guaranteeing that you’ll be wearing the regret of Thanksgiving leftovers in your arteries for days to come. Your relatives will be arriving in two hours and you’re anticipating questions about your job, your empty bank account, and your dead-on-arrival relationship. But you’re also anticipating questions on current events. What if someone brings up immigration, particularly Obama’s executive action that helped shield five million undocumented immigrants from deportation?

Maybe Uncle Jon decides to ask, “Did anyone watch Obummer’s decision on executive action last week? Great, now we’re going to have millions more citizens who are going to drain the system.” The table groans. Your dad joins in, “These illegals broke the law and should get back in line. We have a Congress for a reason. The executive branch cannot just unilaterally usurp the law and do whatever Emperor Obama wants.” Your aunt warns, “This is amnesty! We need border security first!” Your cousin shouts, “God would never have this.”

The room quiets as they turn, waiting for you to explode with rage as well. You clear your throat, mentally note the irony of sitting around a table full of vegetables picked by migrant workers and celebrating a day in which Native Americans welcomed pilgrims who came ashore to America uninvited. It’s game time. You’re ready to answer all these questions. That’s because you read this handy ThinkProgress Thanksgiving guide, which has you covered for all your immigration tirade needs:

Obama’s executive action is not permanent and only helps people with long-standing ties to the United States.

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his intention to grant deportation reprieve for some 4.9 million of undocumented immigrants who have significant ties to the United States, including parents of lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16. Immigrants who qualify must as Obama said in his weekly address Saturday, “pay their full share of taxes, pass a criminal background check, and get right with the law.” Immigrants must have lived continuously in the country since January 2010, while those who arrived after January 1, 2014 will not be helped by the executive action. The action will not help those who come to America illegally in the future. The executive action is temporary and will not “grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive,” Obama emphasized.

Obama’s executive action stresses border security and the deportation of criminal immigrants.

Some of the components of the executive action include measures that even some Republicans lawmakers can get behind like strengthening border security and making it easier to retain high-skilled foreign workers. On border security, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has called on the creation of an inter-agency joint task force that allows various agencies to share information. Additional border patrol and other immigration agents will be hired to prevent another situation seen this year in which an increasing flow of Central American children escaping violence were apprehended at the southern border. Deportations will assuredly continue, though immigration officials are asked to place an emphasis on criminal immigrants, through a “felons, not families; criminals, not children” approach.

Obama acted because Speaker Boehner refuses to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill.

The Republican-controlled House has refused to move on a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate passed more than 500 days ago. House Democrats were shut down at least six times when they tried to introduce a comprehensive immigration bill to the House. And a mere week after House Republican leaders released a set of immigration principles, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that Republicans wouldn’t take up immigration reform until they could trust the president. As Obama said in his weekly address, “There are Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better. Well, I have one answer for that: Pass a bill. The day I sign it into law, the actions I’ve taken to help solve this problem will no longer be necessary.”

Obama is not the only president to have issued an executive order, especially on immigration.

Every president since President Dwight Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration. The executive actions have protected people from specific countries, “such as Hungarians and Cubans fleeing communism, Iranians fleeing revolution, Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans after a hurricane,” a Center for American Progress report found. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush also unilaterally acted on immigration “to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986,” according to the Associated Press.

Obama’s action is lawful.

Repeat it with me: Obama’s action is legal. After the Supreme Court struck down several provisions of Arizona’s 2012 controversial immigration law known as SB 1070, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican, wrote in the Court’s 5-3 opinion that undocumented immigrants who do not fit certain narrow criteria (like immigrants who committed terrorism or are serious criminals) “may” be removed if they meet certain criteria, not that they “must” be removed under the law. “A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,” Kennedy explained in an opinion that was joined by Republican Chief Justice John Roberts. He added that “[f]ederal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.” The executive branch has the authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion in matters of deportation on an individual basis, or for classes of individuals such as “[u]nauthorized workers trying to support their families” or immigrants who originate from countries torn apart by internal conflicts. Both President Reagan and the first President Bush took actions similar to Obama’s in the past.

There is no line for the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants to get into.

There is currently no line for the country’s undocumented population to get into and the regular “channels” do not include them. As the Immigration Policy Center found, “getting a green card is generally limited to four different routes: employment, certain family ties, refugee or asylee processing, and the diversity lottery” and many of these green cards have an annual cap. What’s more, there are only 5,000 green cards available every year for all lower-skilled workers in the United States, while there is also an inadequate supply of green cards for high-skilled professionals.

Undocumented immigrants are not a drain on the economy or on federal resources.

A White House official confirmed to the Washington Post that working immigrants covered under the president’s executive action can apply for Social Security and Medicare, but will be denied access to other federal benefits like “student financial aid, food stamps and housing subsidies.”

As it stands, at least three million of the roughly eight million undocumented workers in the United States already pay Social Security taxes and in 2010, “the Social Security Administration estimate[d] that a net $12 billion was paid in taxes on the earnings of undocumented workers,” a report found. Because some of those workers provide information that does not match the Social Security Administration’s database of names and corresponding Social Security numbers, they can never collect from their tax contribution. Instead, their tax credits go into an Earnings Suspense File, which contains information on roughly $1 trillion worth of tax contributions.

A Harvard University study found that undocumented immigrants’ payroll contributions to Medicare totaled more than $3 billion each year, billions more than they draw out.

The Bible and faith groups offer a moral justification to help immigrants.

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too,” Obama said in his immigration announcement last week. Faith groups, like Presbyterians and Catholics, have long advocated for legislation that would help the country’s undocumented population. Just this past year, faith leaders have fasted, been arrested for civil disobedience, and even challenged federal law by providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in deportation proceedings. Even Pope Francis is on board.

For a more in-depth at Obama’s executive action beyond the scope of what your relatives may likely ask, this handy guide appropriately titled “Everything you need to know about Obama’s executive action” has you covered. If you have that one ornery lawyer cousin, this is why Obama’s executive action was actually “too timid.”