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Original version of the fact check of Rachel Maddow on immigration

Rachel Maddow says Obama's proposed immigration move on 'same scale' as action by George H.W. Bush

By Jon Greenberg on Thursday, November 20th, 2014 at 4:23 p.m.

Ruling statement: On immigration, what reports say President Barack Obama "plans to do is roughly on the same scale" as what President George H.W. Bush did.

— Rachel Maddow on Monday, November 17th, 2014 in a broadcast of MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show"

President Barack Obama’s unilateral move to lift the risk of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants has so incensed rank-and-file Republicans, their leaders are actively tamping down potential cries for impeachment. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said that sort of outrage is "bogus," and she went to the history of the immigration debate to prove it.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush, a Republican, by executive action forestalled deportations for about 1.5 million illegal immigrants.

"What Obama plans to do is roughly on the same scale as what Bush did," Maddow said on Nov. 17, 2014.

We know there’s a vigorous debate whether the current move has the same legal standing as the executive actions taken by Bush and by President Ronald Reagan for that matter. Our focus here is simply on the numbers, with a hat tip to Vox for their work on this.

The count for Obama

According to reports, Obama plans to announce plans to stop deporting the parents of children who are U.S. citizens. We’ve seen a couple of estimates of how many people that would affect. The Pew Research Center said about 3.5 million. The New York Times put the figure at 4 million. Citing White House sources, the New York Times said an additional 1 million people would be touched by other facets of the new policy, giving a total of 5 million. That’s very close to the Migration Policy Institute’s estimate of 5.2 million.

Since there are about 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, Obama’s order will change the rules for about 40 percent of total population.

Again, this is based on reports. But that’s all that Maddow would have had to go on when she made her comments.

The count for Bush

Bush’s order aimed to ease a predicament created by a 1986 immigration reform law. The law took people who had been in the country for at least five years and put them on a path to legal status. But it did nothing for parents, children or spouses who didn’t qualify, even if someone else in the immediate family did.

That created a scenario where families could be split up. When Congress failed to change the law, Bush did it on his own in 1990 under the banner of "family fairness."

At the time, federal immigration officials estimated that the move would affect about 1.5 million people. In 1990, there were about 3.5 million undocumented immigrants. Bush’s policy touched the lives of about 40 percent of the total.

By the way, Reagan also used executive action to address the same problem, but it wasn’t as far-reaching as Bush’s.

To be clear, Obama’s proposal would affect more people overall, but Maddow was clearly talking about scale.

Our ruling

Maddow said Obama’s proposed executive action on immigration policy is roughly on the same scale as one taken by Bush. The estimates of how many people would be affected by the policies of both presidents, compared to total number of undocumented immigrants at the time support the claim. Both measures unilaterally lifted or would lift the risk of deportation from about 40 percent of the reported population.

We rate the claim True.

About this statement:

Published: Thursday, November 20th, 2014 at 4:23 p.m.

Researched by: Jon Greenberg

Edited by: Aaron Sharockman

Subjects: Immigration

MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, Nov. 17, 2014

Politico, GOP leaders warn 'impeachment' is a dirty word, Nov. 19, 2014

Associated Press, Reagan, Bush Also Acted Alone to Shield Immigrants, Nov 15, 2014

The Hill, When Reagan and GHW Bush took bold executive action on immigration, Oct. 2, 2014

Vox, Did George H.W. Bush really pave the way for Obama on immigration?, Nov. 20, 2014

Department of Homeland Security, Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990 to 2000 ,

Migration Policy Institute, As Many as 3.7 Million Unauthorized Immigrants Could Get Relief from Deportation under Anticipated New Deferred Action Program, Nov. 20, 2014

New York Times, Obama to Detail Immigration Plans in Address on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2014

Pew Research Center, Obama’s expected immigration order: How many would be affected?, Nov. 14, 2014

New York Times, New Policy Aids Families of Aliens, March 5, 1990