The U.S. President has shown a mix of political pragmatism and historic vision in pushing forward in the face of a backward-looking Congress.
BOGOTA — President Barack Obama's bid to regulate the presence of predominantly Latino immigrants in the U.S. can be viewed now as simply a piece of administrative pragmatism. But over time, we may look back at it as a milestone in the country's socio-cultural development.
In the long term, the U.S. is likely to look more and more like Latin America. While the essential components of its political and economic model will remain the same — assuming capitalism can be humanized from what it is now — its social, cultural and ethnic traits will undergo a significant makeover due to the arrival of millions of the continent's native inhabitants, the original Americans, who are invading the U.S. with their music, food, work and values, and ready to mix in to survive and advance. All of this, of course, is in keeping with the American tradition.
President Obama's speech announcing immigration concessions was sharply criticized by the Republican establishment and all the radicals who would forget that they too are descended from immigrants. But millions of illegals, integrated in fact if not by law into the U.S. system, celebrated the announcement that they will have an opportunity to regulate at least a part of their situation and thus fulfill their dream of being accepted.
The Irish, Italians, Germans, Slavs and Poles had the same dream once, when they disembarked from stinking, overcrowded ships onto the ancestral land of today's Latino "migrants."
The president's show of realism and political courage was not an undeserved gift to a community sometimes accused of "attacking" the American fortress. It was instead a recognition of the efforts of people who have been contributing to the national project. In essence, Obama is offering work permits for three years to illegal immigrants engaged — with the cordial complicity of U.S. citizens — in legal activities within that complex economy. In doing so, he is recognizing their contribution to the development of projects of all sizes and acknowledging the collapse of a system that has failed to prevent tens of millions from coming to live and work in the U.S. This they have done illegally, without paying taxes or claiming the rights afforded them by a democratic system designed to protect them.
The president's executive order to members of the federal administration is neither an amnesty nor a concession of nationality. As Obama said in his now famous speech, it is a middle path to alleviate the situation of so many people who have penetrated humbly and in many cases on foot, into the heart of an empire that sees itself as invulnerable. The empire has found the courage to recognize the obvious presence of these immigrants and give them a friendly hand so they may shed the "sin" of their illegal status.
Listening to Obama's immigration speech in Las Vegas. Photo: Pete Souza/Whitehouse
Sure, there are bound to be radicals — the descendants of previous immigrants — who will take their objections to the courts. The judges' response will most likely favor the newcomers, but if they do not, they will only be exacerbating a situation that is by now part and parcel of U.S. life and society. It would, in any case, prove futile in stemming a wave of ever increasing dimensions.
Perhaps in the distant future, the U.S. president's decision will be seen as opening a small door to an historical process that is the effective union of the Americas. He will then be seen as having moved in line with history's inexorable march. Whether we like it or not, people are moving in waves up and down the vast American continent, which, as a result, is undergoing a racial and cultural blending.
Obama's decision also speaks to the triumph of the Hispanic identity on this continent. These Latin American immigrants may not be the most cultured and educated representatives of their respective countries, but they are undeniable flag bearers of a language with enormous cultural weight. Spanish is expanding its geographical sway from a solid base of 20 countries, consolidating itself as one of the most important in the world, and increasingly becoming the vehicle of tremendous political possibilities in tomorrow's world.