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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bachmann Cries Wolf

Rep. Michele Bachmann ginned up a bogus doomsday scenario for Republicans in 2014, falsely warning that President Obama would “wave his magic wand” to grant voting rights to newly legalized immigrants if Congress passes an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship.

Only those with full citizenship can vote in state and federal elections, and immigrants provided legal status through the Senate immigration plan couldn’t obtain full citizenship for at least 13 years. The president doesn’t have the power to unilaterally alter that.

Bachmann based her fantastical claim on another false premise, that Obama had done something similar in 2012 when he decided “anyone who was here as a Latina under age 30 … you get to vote.” In reality, Obama announced in 2012 that he would not seek to deport those under 31 who were brought to the U.S. as children by immigrant parents. His action had nothing to do with voting rights — and none were given.

In an exclusive interview with the conservative website World Net Daily, published on July 14, Bachmann warned that passing an immigration bill would be disastrous for Republicans in the 2014 elections and beyond.

Bachmann, July 14: Contrary to popular opinion, Republicans won’t get patted on the back or get new votes because of passing amnesty. They’re going to get blamed. And it’s my prediction that the House Republicans could put themselves in a position where they could actually lose the gavel in 2014. Because I think the president even by executive order can again wave his magic wand before 2014 and he’d say, “Now all of the new legal Americans are going to have voting rights.” Why do I say that? He did it in 2012. Do you remember? Anyone who was here as a Latina under age 30. He said, “You get to vote.” What?!! He decides you get to vote? If he did it in 2012, know, take it to the bank, he’ll do it in 2014. And then guess what’ll happen? Democrat in the White House. Democrats controlling the Senate. Democrats controlling the House. At that point they will change election law. And it will be almost impossible to ever see a Republican majority again. Do we get how important this is? I’m not crying wolf here. This is the most important vote we are going to take in the next two years.

Parts of her comments were reprinted in other mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post and the National Journal.

There are a lot of holes in Bachmann’s scenario. But we’ll start with the claim that in 2012, Obama decreed that “anyone who was here as a Latina under age 30. He said, ‘You get to vote.’ ”

That never happened.

Rather, in June 2012, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced that it would no longer deport people under 31 years of age who: came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16, have lived in the U.S. continuously for five years, are in school or have graduated high school, and have not been convicted of a felony or “significant misdemeanor offense.” Obama did not grant those immigrants citizenship, nor any citizenship rights, such as voting rights.

In his public remarks about the new policy directive, Obama noted that it only provided that eligible immigrants could “request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”

Obama, June 15, 2012: Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stop-gap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.

The action had nothing to do with voting rights. It did not provide any kind of path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. And it did not bestow the right to vote in state or federal elections, as Bachmann claimed.

Nor would Obama be able to grant voting rights to immigrants afforded legal status through an immigration bill such as that passed by the Senate — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Under the Senate bill, many immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally will be able to apply for provisional status, and ultimately to apply for citizenship. The process from undocumented to provisional status to citizenship would take at least 13 years. Only then could they vote.

According to U.S. law, it is a federal offense for anyone who is not a legal U.S. citizen to vote in a federal election (18 USC 611). It is also a federal offense for anyone to make a false statement to claim to be a citizen of the U.S. in order to register to vote or to vote in any federal, state or local election (18 USC 1015 (f)). And if that wasn’t clear enough, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, a.k.a The Motor Voter Act, spells out that it is a federal crime to provide false information when registering to vote. Every state requires that people be citizens in order to register to vote or to vote, and, therefore, immigrants who are not citizens would have to provide criminally false information in order to register to vote.

More important, Obama can’t wave any “magic wand” or issue an executive order to change that.

“That particular provision of the law can’t be waived by the president,” said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which opposes any immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship. “The president can’t legitimize non-citizens registering to vote or voting because federal law prohibits that.”

A former Justice Department official and member of the Federal Election Commission, von Spakovsky worries, however, that the Obama administration will refuse to prosecute people who violate that law.

“I don’t think there is the will to enforce that,” he told us, and he expects the cases of immigrants illegally voting would only get worse if a path-to-citizenship immigration bill is passed. But that’s a separate issue from the one raised by Bachmann. Bachmann claimed that Obama would issue an executive order allowing newly legalized residents to vote in the 2014 election. And that’s just not possible. Despite Bachmann’s assurances that she was not crying wolf with her scenario, that’s exactly what she was doing.

— Robert Farley