This year, as Thanksgiving bleeds into the rest of the winter holiday season, as Republicans sharpen their knives for the fight with Obama over his executive action—or ‘executive amnesty,’ whatever you choose to call it—keep this in mind: American immigration law is perhaps one of the most mercurial sets of laws we have. It is not set in stone, nor has it ever been. Historically, it has depended on racism, trade priorities, and geopolitical considerations, just as it does today. And as Senator Ted Cruz, son of a Cuban immigrant, rails against Hondurans and Mexicans for coming to America illegally, keep in mind just how lucky his family is to come from a country that got the kind of special status that allowed, and still allows, Cubans to come to U.S. in ways that would be considered illegal for other populations and to get a green card in a year. Consider that this is not because of a law passed in the U.S. Congress, but because some guy we didn’t like seized power in 1959 and a few American presidents decided to help the Cuban bourgeoisie—and to stick it to Nikita Khrushchev. It’s why I and my 60 relatives are here, too. And it is quite likely that one of your ancestors got in through some giant, executive loophole ages and ages ago. Or got here when there were no loopholes because there were simply no laws pertaining to immigration.

As you celebrate tonight, consider that the lesson here isn’t so much that Cubans or Soviet Jews shouldn’t be there, but that maybe some other people deserve a shot at an American Thanksgiving rather than an ill-informed lecture on the ‘law.’

Julia Ioffe