My daughter, who is now in high school, casually mentioned to me that she had been talking to the receptionist in the school counselor’s office about the new deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens and kids. She told the receptionist that this represents a great community service opportunity for high school kids who can babysit for the parents who will be filling out applications at the many legal clinics that would soon open up. This discussion of community service led to a broader conversation about why people come to America and that most of us, at some time or other, were immigrants. The African-American receptionist pointed out that not everyone came willingly, but she agreed with my daughter that everyone deserved a chance to improve their life in this country.

Thinking about this conversation that took place the same day as the Ferguson grand jury’s decision and only days after President Obama made his big immigration announcement, was a stark reminder that no matter how far we have come as a nation, we have much further to go. It is almost impossible to talk about immigration without quickly moving into complicated issues of race, economics and justice. Yet Thanksgiving is a holiday where we celebrate prosperity and gratitude and those issues often become lightning rod discussions around the dinner table. Over the years we have recommended ways to help readers conduct a more civil discussion of immigration policy at your Thanksgiving table. This year, we do the same, but offer it in the spirit of civil conversation across all issues, and all tables, during the holiday season.

  1. Try to find common ground. Rather than starting from how you differ, find the place where you agree. We all want a more prosperous nation. We all want justice for everyone. We all want people to be free of fear, want, and discrimination. Look for that common space—and establish it with your aunt or uncle—before you start citing statistics.
  2. Know the basics, especially about the new proposals President Obama announced for administrative immigration reform. We’ve prepared a guide that helps explain what these proposals do, why they are legally permissible, and what the history and context is requiring some action now, in hopes of Congressional action still to come.
  3. Look for the personal story.  Even those people who are anti-immigrant usually know people who don’t fit their own stereotypes, and that is a valuable opening for discussion. Talk about the people you know, the work they do, the dreams they have, and use that to guide the discussion back to the question of what we want.
  4. Focus on the future, not the past. We can’t always explain or justify things that happen, but we can ask how we make things better for everyone in the future. Again, emphasizing finding a way forward, together, is critical.
  5. And if things are just not going well? Have another piece of pie—it really is harder to argue with food in your mouth.

Photo by IFMUTH/