Illegal no longer: The political consequences of President Obama’s immigration reform may be dire


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The one unfortunate aspect of today’s announcement by President Barack Obama of a plan for immigration reform by executive order – thus bypassing Congress – was the circumstances that made it necessary.

No sensible individual would deny that reform of the present broken system is overdue. There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, many of them with families and children born in the US, who are lawful citizens. Plainly, it is impossible to deport them all, not least because the American economy could hardly function without them. Action to regularise matters is therefore essential, coupled with steps to make it harder still to cross the increasingly fortified southern border with Mexico.

And action has already been attempted. In 2006, the Senate passed a measure backed by President George W Bush, a strong supporter of reform, with bipartisan backing. But a Republican-controlled House refused. Last year the same thing happened, under a Democratic President. A majority of House members were in favour, but because he would need Democratic support and because he was terrified of right-wing, viscerally anti-immigrant Tea Partiers, the Republican Speaker John Boehner dropped the matter. Now Mr Obama, fulfilling a longstanding promise, has quite rightly taken matters into his own hands. Some 4 million illegals may benefit from what amounts to an amnesty.

Alas, the political consequences of this gesture of common sense may be fearful to behold. Pointing to their takeover of the Senate and reinforcement of their control of the House at this month’s midterms, Republicans are united in fury, and vow revenge. There is talk of another government shutdown, even of Mr Obama’s impeachment. At the very least, prospects of legislative deals in other areas will be doomed.

But bloody-minded obstructionism could cost Republicans dear in 2016 when the White House is at stake, not just by antagonising Hispanic voters, but by making a mockery of their claim to be a responsible governing party. Mr Boehner’s most sensible course would be to put the Senate bill to a vote, in this current lame duck session of Congress. Will he do so? No way. Fasten your seatbelts. Extreme political turbulence in the US lies ahead.