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GOP Senators' Bizarre Letter to Obama Sparks Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory About a Back-Door Immigration "Amnesty" to Come

Anti-immigrant hardliners are stirring the pot with a dishonest claim that the president intends to grant “amnesty” to 12 to 18 million undocumented immigrants.

Political hype and hypocrisy was on display this week in Washington as eight senators sent an oddly worded letter to President Obama demanding that he refrain from circumventing the will of Congress on immigration. The letter, signed by Senators Grassley, Vitter, Inhofe, Isakson, Chamblis, Bunning, Cochran, and Hatch, is filled with moral outrage, alleging some kind of secret conspiracy to get around Congress by granting deferred action to everyone in the United States illegally. (Deferred action is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion to refrain from removing someone from the United States).

The letter has also been linked to warnings from the restrictionist group Numbers USA, who claim that the president intends to grant “amnesty” to 12 to 18 million illegal aliens, even though by DHS’s own estimate there are no more than 10.8 million people here illegally in the U.S. These two items feed off one another, helping to perpetuate an urban legend of massive proportions—that somehow, with the stroke of a pen, the president can grant “amnesty.” How do rumors like this get started? Take a look at the language of the senators’ letter to see just how easy it is to manipulate public perception.

The letter begins with a preamble of rumors and assertions, designed to sound knowledgeable and well-informed, yet actually saying nothing. The senators begin:

We understand that there’s a push for your Administration to develop a plan to unilaterally extend either deferred action or parole to millions of illegal aliens in the United States.

There’s a push? By whom? Certainly advocates have been begging the Administration for some type of relief—everything from a moratorium on deportations, to deferred action to anything that can stem the tide of suffering caused by our broken immigration system. Senators Lugar and Durbin have specifically asked the Administration to consider deferred action for students who would be eligible under the DREAM Act. But that’s a far cry from the massive contingency plan suggested by this statement, in which all 10.8 million people would somehow remain forever in the U.S. Notice, however, that the letter is deliberately vague about the “push.” This lets the senators continue on, with growing moral conviction, to their next statement:

We understand that the Administration may include aliens who have willfully overstayed their visas or filed for benefits knowing that they will not be eligible for a status for years to come.

So now, it’s a given that this event will happen and it is the Administration who’s pushing. But even more importantly, the Administration is apparently planning to include people who might be eligible for benefits—but not for years and years. What does that even mean? Possibly, they are suggesting that any such program would drag on for years? Whatever the meaning, it definitely is meant to sound like something fishy is going on.

Now the letter turns to a legal assertion, still couched in language that lets the senators sound like they have been informed of some great problem:

We understand that deferred action and parole are discretionary actions reserved for individual cases that present unusual, emergent or humanitarian circumstances. Deferred action and parole were not intended to be used to confer a status or offer protection to large groups of illegal aliens, even if the agency claims that they look at each case on a “case-by-case” basis.

And just how did they come to understand this? Was it from the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in which deferred action was granted to many individuals victimized by the storm? Or the Obama administration’s decision to grant deferred action to widows and orphans of U.S. citizens? While the numbers in both cases were far smaller, there have in fact been categorical determinations to use deferred action in the past. When does something become so unusual, emergent or humanitarian that the exercise of discretion through deferred action or parole becomes an important tool in the Executive branch’s ability to respond quickly to an actual humanitarian crisis? Many people would argue that we have reached a humanitarian crisis with immigration, brought on by Congress’s failure to act on this issue.

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