Video of President Obama: “We want to be sure we have got a pathway to citizenship.”

Voiceover: “Alison Grimes, proud supporter of Obama’s amnesty plan…”

Video of Grimes: “We need an immigration bill…giving a pathway to citizenship to so many millions.”

Voiceover: “Their plan? Citizenship for millions who broke the law. Illegal immigrants would become eligible for taxpayer-funded benefits. Food stamps, unemployment, even Medicare. Obama and Grimes: Two liberals for amnesty, too liberal for us.”

–text of a new ad sponsored by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition

On Monday, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Mitch McConnell in the hard-fought Kentucky senate race, tried to distance herself from President Obama with an ad showing her shooting a gun. McConnell responded in kind. At the same time, an independent group with connections to Republican strategist Karl Rove began airing this ad blasting the “Obama-Grimes” plan to give “amnesty” to illegal immigrants.

What’s going on here?

The Facts

“Amnesty” is a loaded phrase, especially when used in the context of illegal immigration. The dictionary definition is: “The act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.”

The Fact Checker does not take a position on the bill—or on someone’s belief that any path to citizenship is, in effect, “amnesty.”

But the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was approved in 2013 on a vote of 68 to 32 in the Senate, including the support of 14 Republicans, did not contain anything as sweeping as that dictionary definition of amnesty.

If the bill had become law, undocumented aliens would have had to jump through all sorts of hoops before they could be considered for legal permanent residence, including registering with the government, having a steady job, paying a fine, paying back taxes, passing background checks, learning English—and then getting in line behind immigrants who had entered the country legally. It would have taken at least 13 years before citizenship could be obtained.

As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) put it, “they will have an earned, hard pathway to citizenship. They have to get in the back of the line before they can become citizens. They can’t cut in line.”

Grimes, of course, is not in the Senate but she has expressed support for some sort of immigration overhaul that included a pathway to citizen. (The comprehensive Senate bill was not taken up in the House; McConnell has expressed support for a piecemeal approach.)

The ad truncates her full quote, from an interview with a television station: “We need an immigration bill. And here in the state of Kentucky, it will actually help boost our economy, giving a pathway to citizenship for so many millions of Americans can have a positive impact right here in the state of Kentucky.” She added that it needed to be “an earned path to citizenship.”

Obama also has expressed support for a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, but this is not his bill; it was written by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans. So it’s a bit odd that the ad suggests this as an Obama-Grimes collaboration.

Scott Jennings, a spokesman for the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, countered that the ad “is 100% demonstrably true (as evidenced by Grimes’s own voice).” He provided several examples of where Grimes’s statement was similar to Obama’s rhetoric. “While you are correct that she didn’t author or write the immigration bill, she has clearly, on numerous occasions, supported the idea of allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens, as has Obama.”

The ad cites a Heritage Foundation report for its claim that the bill would allow illegal immigrants to “become eligible for taxpayer-funded benefits,” but that report actually did not assess the bill that emerged from the Senate. That bill said that Registered Provisional Immigrants—the intermediate step for illegal immigrants — will not be eligible for federal means-tested public benefits, such as Obamacare, food stamps or Medicaid or Medicare.

(Some undocumented aliens already have received Medicare, though they are not supposed to under a 1996 law, and the Obama administration says it is trying to end the problem. Some critics of the law also claim that there are some loopholes, such as access to emergency Medicaid for children or tax credits for the working poor, but these are mostly semantics. Besides, Registered Provisional Immigrants would have to allow payroll deductions for Social Security and Medicare while being unable to get those benefits unless they become citizens.)

“Our ad is about the benefits illegal immigrants would get when they become citizens, not ‘registered provisional immigrants,’ so your point is irrelevant,” Jennings said.

But here’s the oddest thing about the ad. Crossroads GPS, another organization affiliated with Rove, during the 2013 debate actually ran ads calling for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, “where they will pay a fine, prove employment and meet other requirements,” as well as prohibit eligibility for welfare or Obamacare. (See the ad below.) Indeed, it even called the emerging Senate bill an “important starting point” to fixing the current system. And yet, here is an affiliated group attacking a Democrat for supporting a bill that largely meets the criteria set forth in the ad. It’s enough to give politics a bad name.

“The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a separate organization with a separate Board of Directors. KOC, therefore, is not bound by the issue positions or advertisements of any other organization,” Jennings said.

Update: There have been a number of articles that have explored the connections between Crossroads and groups such as KOC (here’s another one) but Jennings argues that it is going too far to suggest Rove is involved in KOC’s ad-making decisions. “I see the articles you cite; I don’t see in them any facts to prove that Karl Rove is in control of or is making decisions for the KOC,” he said. “This ad isn’t about Karl Rove, who had no hand in it, anyway. This ad is about a single issue and the fact that Grimes and Obama have the same position.”

The Pinocchio Test

Grimes certainly supports a bill that would prove a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens, as does Obama. Whether this is “amnesty” is in the eye of the beholder. But this was not a bill crafted by either Obama or Grimes, but a coalition of Republicans and Democrats–an unusual example of bipartisan cooperation in this period of intense partisanship.

Moreover, the bill that emerged from the Senate set tough rules for that pathway — including denying access to virtually all federal means-tested benefits. In doing so, the bill largely met criteria set by donors and supporters of the very organization that is now blasting Grimes on this issue. It is bizarre and hypocritical for this group to now falsely attack Grimes for supporting a middle ground approach that its supporters once championed.

Three Pinocchios

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