Immigration may prove a winning issue for Obama

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

Related Stories

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.

Two men sit on a bench in Laredo, Texas 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.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

Is Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy about to bring back Blairism?

Those on the left think new Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy could be about to take the party back to the days of Tony Blair, says the BBC's Mark Mardell.

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I object to any inference that being a successful long-term illegal immigrant in the US is not hard work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "the one cause where there is some possible room for agreement with Republicans, eager to court the fastest growing ethnic group in America."

    That says it all really and I've heard it elsewhere from Republicans themselves: "we want to give the impression we care about Latinos". So, not actually care about them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I would simply welcome any legislation on anything that is good for "We the People" and does what is best for the United States of America
    instead of the biggest contributor!
    Immigration is a good place to start working for the people instead of Lobby Groups and Super PACs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    If we don't come up with a way to give these people legal status and a path to citizenship we risk creating a resentful underclass that will be a constant source of social unrest and which will have a reason to overthrow our system and way of life instead of assimilating and adopting it--the very thing most reform opponents fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    @53. DavidinUSA

    I see more anger and hatred in your posts than one hears from Limbaugh.


    More disturbing is that you hear from limbaugh


    @46. AndreaNY
    Laws have to mean something. And breaking the law should never be condoned or encouraged.
    Then the USA would never have existed. You cannot have it both ways
    Laws must be Just or they must be Broken.


Comments 5 of 114



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.