How to Argue For Obama's Immigration Reform

So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant . And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue for President Obama's immigration order.

Common Argument #1: This is yet another heinous executive overreach by our imperial President. #KingObama!

Your Response: Look, I'm no legal scholar, and with all due respect, you probably aren't either. So I can't predict for certain how, say, a court challenge to Obama's immigration order might play out — except to say that a good number of establishment legal minds believe it's right in line with existing standards of presidential power. That doesn't mean a judge (or a Supreme Court justice if it went that far) couldn't disagree, but it does mean that the GOP would be taking aim at something they also hope to have if they manage to nab the White House in 2016. Make no mistake, executive authority is a perk both parties enjoy when they're in charge, so the GOP may want to tread lightly on this subject.

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Common Argument #2: Sure, but he's taken this to a whole new level. It's unacceptable.

Your Response: I guess that depends on how you define "unacceptable." Executive orders are well-known and well-loved by the Republican Party, evidenced recently in the George W. Bush years — he signed a whopping 291 orders in eight years, a mark Obama is unlikely to reach. But even he didn't match Bill Clinton, who signed 364 of them. Basically, this is an area on which the parties tacitly agree, but whichever party is locked out of the White House acts like they don't.

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This isn't much surprise. Obviously, people will complain most about the orders they disagree with. But in the raw numbers game, Obama's taken it less to "a whole new level" than any President in recent times, dishing out the least executive orders per year since Grover Cleveland's first term, from 1885 to 1889.

Common Argument #3: He's poisoned the well. Now the Congress will never pass immigration reform.

Your Response: They were never going to in the first place. The Republicans, in spite of their naked lack of interest in addressing immigration reform, have done a surprisingly decent job convincing people something would've happened if not for Emperor Obama. But in truth, it's been blindingly clear for the last two years that immigration reform was going nowhere, for myriad reasons — dissension within the Republican ranks first and foremost, as well as the wide chasm between what liberals conservatives want to see done. Make no mistake, if the Republicans wanted to pass a bill to reform immigration, they could've gotten it done.

Simply put, the party has demagogued undocumented immigrants — which some of them refer to crudely as "illegals" — for long enough, that the appetite for anything like humane, compassionate reform has gone out the window. After all, you may remember that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election partially thanks to his abysmal numbers among Latino voters, after he ran hard-right on immigration issues, and not even the resulting panic among the GOP spurred them into competent action. This point can't be stressed enough: the Republicans were not going to pass immigration reform. Whether Obama successfully forces them to do so or not, they wouldn't have taken that step on their own.

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Common Argument #4: Look, real talk: these people don't have the right to be in this country. We're a nation of laws.

Your Response: I could've easily been born in Mexico instead of San Francisco. Any of us could've been born anywhere, and not have the plentiful advantages afforded by American citizenship. If you want to condemn people coming into the U.S. as criminals because they couldn't navigate our abysmal immigration system, fair enough — I can't disagree, even if the mindset strikes me as uncaring, and yes, profoundly privileged.

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But I do know that every country, ours included, have had laws on the books that are exposed as inhumane, immoral or unacceptable over the course of time, calling out for acts of righteous civil disobedience. I can't help thinking we'll eventually start thinking this way about how we've treated immigrants of all backgrounds. Like it or not, there's an inescapable hypocrisy in securing a nation of 48 contiguous states, partially through brutality and racist land seizure — manifest destiny, anyone? — and then condemning others for their lack of legal propriety.

So, is it illegal? Yes. Do I care? Not especially. Do I think that people who conspicuously care a lotlooking at you, Rep. Steve King — may have some latent biases in play? Absolutely.

Common Argument #5: But what about when immigrants come here illegally, and then commit crimes?

Your Response: People commit crimes. I'd no sooner use that fact to tar aspiring, law-abiding immigrants than I'd impose a travel ban on people from Tennessee thanks to their inordinately violent state. There's obviously a compelling emotional argument behind this — if someone who could've been deported from the country murders somebody close to you, rage is an appropriate and healthy reaction. But in no sense should the immigrant community be indicted for those same worst human elements that exist everywhere.

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Common Argument #6: You sound like you support open-borden anarchy.

Your Response: Well, you sound a little like Bill O'Reilly!

In all seriousness, there are security issues that go along with enforcing a national border, and I'm not raising any objection to humane enforcement of such measures — making sure people don't have ties to violent or criminal organizations, for example, and aren't bringing weapons into the country. But on the question of whether an upstanding person on one side of the border should be able to step across and get a big, welcoming hug from America, I say yes.

That may be radical, I freely admit. But it's a first-principles decision — if you don't believe you have a unique birthright that makes you more deserving of inclusion than another human being, and you believe that governments can and do sometimes craft unjust policies that it's morally acceptable to break (in a peaceful way, to be clear), the "radical" begins to seem sensible. Good-faith, sincere people can disagree about that, but make no mistake — it's not a longing for anarchy, but a longing for a more just and loving society.

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And guess what? Everything I just detailed is lightyears further left than anything Obama even dreamed of ordering, so if my open-arms rhetoric made your stomach turn, you can rest easy it isn't coming anytime soon.

Common Argument #7: I know why Obama, and liberals, and you want to see more immigrants coming into his country — because they vote Democrat.

Your Response: I can only appeal to your sense of sincerity here — that's not what motivates me, or motivates thousands upon thousands of activists, advocates and sympathizers. Do some Democratic politicians look at the voting habits of Latino immigrants and think, "huh, this is pretty advantageous?" Sure, no doubt about it.

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But we're talking like the Republicans have no agency in all of this! If Latinos continue to reliably vote for Democrats, which isn't even a guarantee, that's not just a commentary on the Democratic Party, but on the GOP, too. There's a real confounding insistence on the part of many Republicans to groan about this, rather than taking the painful, introspective and necessary steps to actually start turning things around. It's like when outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann complained that "amnesty" would prevent any future Republican presidencies. Well, yeah, I guess it could — but that probably says more about you than it does about us.

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