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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bachmann’s Immigration Exaggerations

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann wrongly suggested that Obama is granting citizenship and voting privileges to immigrants who are in the country illegally. His executive actions do neither of those.

In a Nov. 20 email fundraising appeal for her political action committee — sent before Obama’s prime-time speech that evening but after details of his plan had been reported — Bachmann wrote: “What could more fundamentally transform our nation than making our precious American citizenship — and the rule of law — merely commodities to be dispensed with as our Imperial President sees fit, flooding our land with illegal foreigners which will forever alter our way of life?”

She went on to imply that the unauthorized immigrants affected by Obama’s actions would be able to vote. “The Democrats are licking their wounds after their terrible defeats this month, and are viewing these millions of illegal aliens as votes for their leftist agenda in two years.”

Obama’s plan in no way bestows citizenship on immigrants who are in the country illegally. And only U.S. citizens have the right to vote in federal and state elections.

Bachmann made a similar false claim about voting rights last year, wrongly saying that Obama had granted the right to vote to unauthorized immigrants in 2012 when he had only deferred deportation procedures for children who had been brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

The executive actions provide a temporary relief of three years from the threat of deportation to parents who are in the country illegally but who have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. The parents must have lived in the United States for at least five years, and they must register, and pass background checks in order to obtain the reprieve. They also must pay taxes and prove that their child was born on or before Nov. 20. If they meet the requirements, they would also be given work authorization for the three-year period.

The president’s plan also expands an earlier order to delay deportation of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and who meet certain education criteria. Before, those so-called DREAMers — named for failed legislation that addressed this group of immigrants — had to have entered the country before June 15, 2007, and be born after 1981. Obama changed that cut-off to Jan. 1, 2010, and eliminated the stipulation on age. The old rules said eligible individuals would receive deferred action on deportation for two years. Obama’s new action increases that to three years.

The administration’s actions give both groups of immigrants temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation, but they don’t grant citizenship or even put these immigrants on a path to citizenship, something the 2013 bipartisan Senate immigration bill would have established. That bill passed the Senate in June 2013 but hasn’t been taken up by the House. Other aspects of Obama’s actions pertain to those with legal permanent resident status and foreign workers with visas.

The White House estimates that nearly 5 million immigrants who are in the country illegally would be affected by the executive action. There are an estimated 11 million immigrants illegally living in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. The center estimates Obama’s action on deferred deportation would affect about 4 million immigrants, most of whom — 3.5 million — are parents whose children have legal status.

The White House fact sheet on the actions makes only two mentions of citizenship, and neither has anything to do with those in the country illegally. It says the Department of Homeland Security will launch a “citizenship awareness media campaign” for legal permanent residents, and the department will “expand an existing policy to provide relief to spouses and children of U.S. citizens seeking to enlist in the military, consistent with a request made by the Department of Defense.”

The Pew Research Center notes in its report on the executive actions that the unauthorized immigrants affected wouldn’t be eligible for certain government benefits including subsidies for obtaining insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

— Lori Robertson