Immigration may prove a winning issue for Obama

People walk around behind a metal fence in Laredo, Texas
Image caption President Obama's plan has many things in common with the Senate framework

Here, in the border town of Laredo, Texas, President Barack Obama's speech calling for immigration reform will matter.

So will the delicate political calculations made by Republican and Democratic politicians who are seeking votes by seeking change.

It is quite a thrill to be here, hoping to catch a glimpse of Captain Call from Larry McMurty's novel Streets of Laredo, or the doomed cowboy of the Johnny Cash song.

No such luck, but it is an atmospheric place.

The real streets of Laredo do indeed feel like a slice of the old West, slightly battered and dusty, and it is also clearly a border town, with all the shop names in Spanish and the people on the streets overwhelmingly Hispanic.

Shadow boxing

There is a long, covered bridge across the Rio Grande with high bars running up the side, making it look a little like a prison.

There is a big queue as lines of people dutifully wait to show their papers and cross into the much richer country.

But this is just a tiny part of the border between Mexico and the US that stretches for nearly 2,000 miles (3,220km).

Over the years many have broken the law and crossed it without papers - there are said to be 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

It will matter not just because there are probably quite a few people who do not have the right papers and who would like to become Americans.

Image caption Some Republicans fear the party might lose Latino support forever

It will matter because many Latino citizens judge politicians on how they treat their illegal cousins and friends.

By declaring that "the time is now" for change, the president has picked the one cause where there is some possible room for agreement with Republicans, eager to court the fastest growing ethnic group in America.

President Obama all but endorsed the plan already put together by senators of both parties.

In particular, he agreed that illegal immigrants had to pay fines, back-taxes and go to the end of the queue to become citizens.

It may be tough enough to not be described as "amnesty". Many conservatives regard that as rewarding criminality and luring more to breach American borders illegally.

Republicans like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Arizona Senator John McCain, who are behind the Senate plan, will be wary of any endorsement from the president.

The White House won't trust them. House Speaker John Boehner responded to the most consensual speech President Obama has made for months by warning him not to move to the left.

There will be a lot of shadow boxing and burning of straw men before this is done.

But I sense the plan, or something like it, will be done. The president has designed a strategy where it is hard for him to lose.

If he gets his way, he will have achieved something big that has eluded past presidents, including Republican George W Bush.

If he fails, he will have done so having exposed deep fissures in the Republican party. They would also get the blame for failure and perhaps lose forever any chance with Latino voters.

Faced with that possibility, some will argue for months but eventually opt to swallow hard and share some of the credit with the president they loathe.

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