POLITICS
11/26/2014 04:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Here's Every Argument You'll Need For Your Immigration Debate This Thanksgiving

President Barack Obama gave all of us a Thanksgiving table topic to avoid last Thursday when he announced he will grant deportation relief to as many as 5 million people, most of whom are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

Americans are split on whether that's a good idea, and your family might be, too. HuffPost gave you tips last Thanksgiving on how to talk to your relatives about climate change and Obamacare. Now, in light of Obama's announcement last week, we want to arm you with some facts to argue about immigration with your family -- whether you're for the president's move or not.

As we did when assisting your Obamacare arguments, we'll present it as a way to talk to Hank -- that uncle you love despite cringing when he talks politics -- and Emily, that cousin whose idealism makes you roll your eyes.

Hank: Obama is allowing amnesty for illegals.

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Talking point: Illegal is illegal. You shouldn't be allowed to stay in the country if you broke the law.

Killer Stat: The president is letting up to 5 million undocumented immigrants stay in the country. He has no authority to do that. He's not an emperor!

Emily: No, he's not even granting them legal status.

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Talking point: Amnesty isn't a clear word on immigration, but if Hank means that people are immune from deportation or able to become citizens under the new policy, he is wrong. Undocumented immigrants will have to apply for relief on a case-by-case, temporary and conditional basis. Not every undocumented immigrant will be eligible -- the largest component of Obama's plan gives three years of work authorization and the ability to stay to parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The next largest piece is based on expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which helps undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. None of these people get "legal status," they just won't get immediately deported.

Second talking point: The president has wide authority to decide how immigration laws are enforced. This particular move is based on the concept of prosecutorial discretion, which law enforcement agencies use to prioritize who they go after, in order to focus their limited resources. If they've granted relief on a case-by-case basis to millions, that lets them focus on deporting people who recently crossed the border, or who are serious criminals or national security threats. As an Obama administration official said of the new policy, "It's like taking a lot of the hay out of the haystack."

Bottom line: If you agree that it's not feasible to deport 11.3 million people, you have to accept that prosecutorial discretion needs to exist -- even if you don't agree with how it's being applied here.

Hank: But Obama even said he couldn't do it, and that he isn't a king!

Talking point: Obama said numerous times that he couldn't halt deportations or expand relief. House Speaker John Boehner's office assembled a helpful guide to all of Obama's statements on this point.

Bottom line: Hank is right; Obama did say many times he couldn't expand deportation relief. But many legal experts -- left, right and center -- are arriving at the consensus that this change to deportation policy is legally unassailable.

Hank: This is all irrelevant anyway. He should've secured the border first!

Talking Point: As long as the border's not secure, more people will keep coming. That's exactly what happened with President Ronald Reagan's amnesty in 1986. We legalized 3 million people back then. Now we've got 11.3 million more.

Emily: Actually, the border is more secure than it's been in four decades.

Talking point: Apprehensions for crossing the border illegally stand at a quarter of what they were a decade ago.

Killer Stat: The nearly $18 billion that the U.S. government spent on border enforcement in 2012 is more than it spent on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Emily: By the way, could you please stop calling human beings "illegals," Hank!

Talking point: This is a pretty simple one: Undocumented immigrants are human beings, regardless of what you think of their decision to cross the border illegally or overstay a visa. The preferred terms are "undocumented" and "unauthorized" -- "illegals" is insulting, and "illegal aliens" and "illegal immigrants" aren't much better.

Killer point: Being in the country illegally is a civil offense, not a criminal one. There mere fact of living here without proper immigration status is not technically a crime, and certainly shouldn’t define who you are.

Bottom line: Actually, Emily makes a good point here. But as Vox notes in its Thanksgiving fight guide, this might be one to drop in favor of some of the bigger issues. The Hanks of the world tend to dig in on verbiage.

Hank: Either way, they shouldn't be here, and now Obama's letting them stay! This is illegal.

Emily: Actually, he's not.

Talking point: Whatever you may feel about last week's executive action on deportation relief, there are still at least 6 million undocumented immigrants who won't benefit from it, and another 300,000 to 500,000 who likely will be apprehended crossing the border illegally every year.

Killer stat: Congress mandates a quota of about 34,000 detention center beds for immigrants to be maintained on a daily basis. Most will likely be filled regardless of whether Obama indiscriminately deports the parents of U.S. citizens.

Bottom line: Even after abiding by all the rules in this executive action, the federal government likely will continue to deport large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Hank: This is just going to lead to more people crossing the border illegally.

Talking point: Don't you remember all those unaccompanied children that crossed the border this year? They started coming right after the president created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that lets people who came here illegally as kids off the hook.

Killer Stat: Almost 70,000 unaccompanied kids crossed the border illegally this year. They risked their lives crossing through Mexico in the hands of human smugglers. Now Obama's made the problem worse by dangling a carrot in front of their heads.

Emily: That's just some nonsense that Republicans want you to think.

Talking point: People don't come here because they think that if they suffer through years of working for substandard wages with no government benefits, they one day may or may not be allowed to stay here temporarily.

The vast majority of people come here either for economic reasons, because they're fleeing violence, or to reunite with family members. In some cases, the U.S. government has played a role in making life in Latin America harder by overthrowing democratically elected governments, financing atrocities and pushing trade policies that undermine Latin American industries. There's no evidence to prove that people come here illegally just because of a change in immigration policy that doesn't even affect new arrivals.

Second talking point: The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally from Central America had already started rising well before the DACA policy in 2012. Several months before Obama announced DACA, immigration authorities had to house Central American minors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas because the number had risen so sharply.

Killer stat: The number of undocumented immigrants isn't even rising, so you really have nothing to worry about. The undocumented immigrant population currently stands at an estimated 11.3 million people. But that's not actually a high for the country -- in 2007, there were an estimated 12.2 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Bottom line: The problem isn't getting worse -- it's actually leveled off. Sensible policy would help fix the problem.

Hank: I don't see why you sympathize with these "undocumented" immigrants that are stealing our tax money and our jobs.

Talking Point: These people use our schools and our hospitals without paying taxes.

Talking Point 2: Plus, they’re taking jobs away from Americans.

Emily: You’re benefitting from undocumented immigrants more than you think.

Talking point: Undocumented immigrants often do pay taxes, though that’s not always enough to balance out how much they cost state governments. But they’re also generally barred from receiving benefits -- unless, of course, they're accepting them on behalf of their U.S.-born children.

Talk point 2: Despite the myth that immigrants are stealing American jobs, economists generally agree that immigration -- both legal and illegal -- has an overall positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Killer stat: Undocumented immigrants pumped $100 billion into our Social Security system over the last decade, and because they're not citizens they won't get any of that money back.

Bottom line: They're not leeching off of you.

Hank: This needs to be resolved by Congress.

Emily: I agree -- they should do something.

Talking point: Congress has the authority to deal with the problems in the immigration system to a much larger degree than the president. It could pass a bill to give more funding to border security, or change the legal immigration system, or allow undocumented immigrants to get a path to citizenship.

Bottom line: Hank and Emily will disagree on priorities here, but they're right: A lot of these problems will be up to Congress to decide. Ask Hank and Emily if they're voters -- if not, tell them they should be.

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