Turkey Talk: How to Politely Discuss Immigration with Your Conservative Uncle

You simply don't talk about politics around family. 

It's the one topic (along with religion) that is usually forbidden to be discussed when family is present.  However, we here at TPV are rabble rousers and so we, in turn, will break this social faux pas by doing so this Thanksgiving.  We will do so because unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there, especially regarding immigration issues in this country.  So when good ole Uncle Joe begins his tirade about "lawless Emperor Obama's amnesty plan" we will have a few handy factually-backed responses to help him see the error of his ways.  

"I can't believe I have to waste my Thanksgiving talking about this!"

Uncle Joe might very well begin the conversation with a statement like this.  However, before he gets into his talking points, you should kindly point out to him that this holiday is the perfect time to talk about it.  Because what better way to discuss undocumented immigrants than by honoring the Pilgrims.  Yes, Uncle Joe, the Pilgrims were the original undocumented immigrants.  They crossed borders illegally, didn't speak the language, kept to themselves in their own self-contained communities, and had minimal skills.  In fact, they were so ill-prepared for life in their new homeland that they nearly starved.  And yet, they didn't because the land's inhabitants saw them suffering and felt compelled to help them.  Yes, that's right.  The Native Americans helped the poor, suffering, undocumented immigrants in their time of need.  Sounds very Christian of them to do so, if you ask me.  

"All these illegals are here because they've snuck over the border!"  

Poor Uncle Joe has been watching Fox News.  Because he, along with many of the leading Republican Party members seem to have no idea that 40% of undocumented immigrants have overstayed their VISAS.  Yup, that's right:  40% of undocumented immigrants are not Mexican gang bangers with cantaloupe calves who hopped a chain link fence, but rather studious Europeans and Asians who came here in the comfort of the coach class of a 747.  Of course, this would completely blow Uncle Joe's mind to learn that the White person next to him at the bar on a Tuesday night is just as likely to be an undocumented immigrant as the Latino person playing pool.  

"These illegals don't pay taxes!"  

Which taxes?  No, seriously, which taxes?  This isn't a rhetorical question.  Because according to the Immigration Policy Center, undocumented immigrants pay income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, state taxes, and federal taxes.  These taxes traditionally amount to anywhere between $90 and $140 billion a year.  Perhaps the best way to explain this to dear Uncle Joe is to ask him how often he's been in a situation where a person received an "illegal immigrant discount."  When he asks what that is, explain to him that illegal immigrants get discounts when they buy things like gasoline, or food, or drinks, or clothing.  When he says he's never seen that, explain that's he's correct because it doesn't matter what a person's immigration status is, we all pay additional taxes on these items.

"They're taking jobs from hard-working Americans!"

Well, here Uncle Joe might be partially correct.  Undocumented workers do take jobs.  However, to say they're taking away jobs from Americans is simply incorrect.  Case in point:  In 2010 at the height of the anti-immigrant sentiment in this country, United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez offered a campaign called Take Our Jobs where he offered anyone out of work an opportunity to take a farm workers job, a field that is made up of 70% of undocumented workers.  The result of the Take Our Jobs campaign?  Only a handful of 'true Americans' took the offer when they realized it was back-breaking labor in triple degree heat for minimum wage.  In fact, one of the handful of people who take up the challenge was Stephen Colbert, who quit after three hours on the job.  Undocumented immigrants do the work that nobody else wants to do no matter how 'American' they are.

"These illegals are a drain on our schools!"

As someone who has taught undocumented immigrants, allow me to personally address this concern of Uncle Joe's.  First off, we as classroom teachers never actually learn who is and who is not undocumented.  Students do not have to provide a social security number and the school cannot require them.  So we teachers teach a classroom full of students who may or may not be American citizens.  The next concern is the language barrier.  However, this too is a common misconception.  The truth is that this generation of immigrants learn English faster than any previous generation due to their access to media and technology.  In addition, studies have shown that 3/4 of these students will be fluent in English within ten years.  All and all, they place no additional burden on the classroom than any of their peers.

"But Obama's decision proves he's a tyrant!"  

Lastly, our friend Uncle Joe will inevitably discuss the sheer magnitude of this decision.  An executive order affecting five million people is no small deed.  However, it is not unprecedented.  As Rachel Maddow reported, George H.W. Bush's 1990 executive action was on exactly the same scale as what Obama did.  Each president acted to shield nearly 40% of the undocumented populations in the country at that time.  With Bush, it just so happens that there were only 3.5 million undocumented immigrants total whereas with Obama there are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Each president used his executive authority to act in a manner because Congress was simply unwilling to act on an issue of national importance.

So these are some talking points we can have in our arsenal for this upcoming Thursday's feast.  Of course, Uncle Joe won't be won over so easily but we're not having this discussion for him:  We're having this discussion for the other members of the family, the ones who may not be as engaged in politics as we are.  Because as TPV members, it is our job to go out there and start conversations and to give people a chance to hear the truth about issues rather than misleading and outright false talking points.  In the end, nothing is as satisfying as being able to educate your family members and to help correct misinformation on a topic that you are passionate about.

Combine that with a nice, full meal and you're bound to have a rewarding holiday experience.



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