As we go to press, President Barack Obama is preparing to make an address to the nation, in which he will announce that he is using executive authority to extend “amnesty” to up to 5 million of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. “Amnesty” doesn’t mean full legalisation — it means that the Department of Justice won’t actively pursue such illegals.

Crucially, that means such people can take on-the-books work, get driver’s licences and a whole range of other things that will allow them to live a non-fugitive life in the US. The rules will last only as long as Obama is in power, while they wait for a comprehensive bill to be got through Congress.

They may have to wait a long time. The Republican leadership wants to get a bill through; the Tea Party, white nativists, are preventing them. The delay is killing Hispanic support for Republicans, which once stood at 66%, and guaranteed them support in states like New Mexico and Florida.

Obama’s executive order will be a complex process, an extension of existing practices with regard to illegal immigrants with American small children (i.e. kids born in the US, so-called “anchor babies”), and other measures.

Obama argues that the proposals are constitutional, part of executive authority, though he has earlier said that full action to make all illegal immigrants legal would be unconstitutional. Those latter statements were a way of calming down his Left base.

Now, with the 2014 elections out of the way, he is letting the throttle out. The move not only fulfils a longstanding promise, it will also throw down the gauntlet to the Republican Congress at the start of a “lame duck” term. It’s a sign that Obama doesn’t intend to be sucked into the vortex that consumed the last two years of Reagan, Clinton and Dubya’s terms.

The Right of the Republican party, and its right-centre, are, predictably, going apeshit, arguing that Obama is prompting a constitutional crisis. He is certainly pushing it to the edge, though one suspects he is simply calling their bluff. The Right have used this possibility as a threat for impeachment, etc — rather than for boring old judicial review, which would be the normal course.

Now that it’s happening, they are talking about guns on the streets, etc (with the Ferguson grand jury about to hand down its decision as to whether or not to indict a white police office who shot a young black man), quoting Cicero, etc, etc. For Obama it is a strategy not without risk.

But its real and symbolic importance can’t be overstated. It not only takes millions out of the shadows, it changes the nature of the US-Mexico border, which is a boundary separating the First from the Third World. That could be treated with a higher wall. Obama is acknowledging that it is porous, and, to a degree, recognising a de facto right to mobility.

It sure as hell sets the agenda. So let’s see what happens. I for one think this is a Fox News evening …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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