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Did Obama promise ‘amnesty’ to 11 million undocumented immigrants after the election?

Ending Spending Action fund attacks incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on immgration and urges voters to 'Stand with Scott' Brown, her Republican opponent. (Video: Ending Spending Action Fund via YouTube)

“After the election, Obama admits he will give amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants.”

— voice-over of ad attacking Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sponsored by Ending Spending Action Fund (ESAF)

This ad by a third-party group attacks Shaheen by claiming that she supports President Obama “99 percent” of the time and thus would do little to prevent a gambit by Obama to “give amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants” after the midterm elections.

We will lay aside the 99 percent claim (ably examined by our colleagues at PolitiFact) and instead focus on the assertion about Obama’s plans on immigration. Is this really the case?

The Facts

In its back-up material, ESAF points to a series of articles, many of which ran in The Washington Post, reporting that Obama deferred taking executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections. Previously, he had pledged to announce executive steps at end of the summer, having said he was disappointed that the House of Representatives did not take up a bill that had been approved by the Senate in 2013.

As we have noted before, “amnesty” is a loaded phrase 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 the Senate in 2013 on a vote of 68 to 32, 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.

By its very nature, a presidential executive order would be even less than that, since an executive order does not permanently change the law. While the specifics have not been outlined, the key aspect of the president’s plan would be to slow down or halt the deportation policies that have led to 2 million undocumented immigrants being deported during Obama’s presidency. (Update: the Los Angeles Times has cast doubt on that 2 million figure.)

“Ideas under consideration could include temporary relief for law-abiding undocumented immigrants who are closely related to U.S. citizens or those who have lived in the country a certain number of years — a population that advocates say could reach as high as 5 million,” David Nakamura of The Post reported in a 2013 article cited by ESAF.

Note the 5 million number. That’s much lower than 11 million, which by itself is considered the total universe of undocumented immigrants in the United States. There are other options that could bring the total affected higher, but the Congressional Research Service, in a report, found that the White House’s authority to defer deportations is limited. The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 29 reported that the White House was considering options that could offer protections to 1 million and 4 million people in the country illegally.

At this point no one really knows the exact impact. But the odds are the number will be much less than 11 million — and under no circumstances could Obama’s action be considered “amnesty.” Immigrants in theory would still face legal risk because an executive order can be changed by Obama’s successor.

ESAF could not provide The Fact Checker with any evidence that Obama “admitted” he will give amnesty to 11 million people.

For the record, Shaheen has opposed Obama dealing with immigration through executive order. Shripal Shah, an adviser to Shaheen, told The Post that she “believes Congress must address our broken immigration system with a comprehensive fix, and would not support a piecemeal approach issued by executive order.”

The Pinocchio Test

There are three key elements to this claim: Did Obama say (“admit”) he will give “amnesty” to “11 million” undocumented aliens? There are problems with all three elements.

While Obama has said he will take executive action, he’s never said it would result in “amnesty” for that many people. Indeed, “amnesty,” or something like it, requires an act of Congress. On top of that, it’s highly unlikely that executive action would affect all 11 million undocumented immigrants. The most recent news report on the White House plans pegs the figure as between 1 million and 4 million.

Finally, in attacking Shaheen, the ad fails to acknowledge that she opposes even the limited executive action Obama is considering.

Add it up, and this ad earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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