The ongoing magnetism of the United States is reflected in the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living within its borders. Equally, its failure to address this issue bears testament to a frayed political framework. This has forced President Barack Obama to act unilaterally, pursuing a policy that makes eminent sense. But the default setting of many Republicans makes agreement on even this basis seemingly impossible.
President Obama's executive order would spare from deportation five million immigrants who have lived illegally in the US for at least five years and have roots, including children who are American citizens. The focus of immigration officials would be on criminals and recent arrivals. "We are not," said the President, "a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American dream. We're a nation that finds a way to welcome them."
Effectively, the policy recognises things as they are, not as Americans who seek simple solutions, such as mass deportation, would like them to be. It also frees up officials to act against the illegal immigrants of most concern. Yet the Republican reaction acknowledges nothing of that. They appear deaf to one of the main lessons of the 2012 presidential election, which saw their candidate, Mitt Romney, alienate Hispanic voters by urging them to "self-deport". Subsequently, moderate Republicans supported a bipartisan Senate immigration bill, hoping to improve their image, only to see their conservative colleagues of the House of Representatives kill it.
The President's policy, therefore, also represents good politics. The Democrat candidate for the presidency in 2016, almost certainly Hillary Clinton, is now all but assured of the increasingly important Hispanic vote. This comprises a potentially decisive 14 per cent of the electorate. As much was indicated when the Hispanics, frustrated by the President's failure to achieve action on immigration, stayed away from this month's mid-term congressional elections, at which the Republicans retook the Senate and amassed a historic majority in the House.
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The more that conservative Republicans oppose President Obama's policy, the deeper the damage will become. There is talk of forcing a partial government shutdown, as orchestrated by their Tea Party contingent over his healthcare law. That, however, would probably drive many moderate voters into the Democrat camp. They may be disillusioned over President Obama but they are even more averse to the damaging political games played in Washington.
Many such voters may be alarmed at the President's assumption of unilateral action. They could have some sympathy with the view of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, that he should not be acting "like an emperor". This, indeed, is not how a system predicated on checks and balances is meant to work. But when the President belongs to one party and Congress is controlled by the other, that system relies on compromise. Many of the more strident conservative Republicans do not want a bar of this. Rather than question policies put forward by the President, they want simply to quash them.
This has forced President Obama to act unilaterally on global warming, as well as immigration. Clearly, he is determined to prove he is not a lame duck, the label widely attached to him after the mid-term elections. Other presidents in his position have bowed to that tag and spent most of their time involved in foreign policy, where they cannot be constrained by Congress.
President Obama has chosen not to be shackled that way. Going it alone is not the stuff of an ideal world. But illegal immigration and global warming demanded a response. When Congress is intent on gridlock, rather than responding with good sense to sensible policies, it is difficult to be too critical of him.