President Obama announced a much anticipated executive order that will protect up to 5m undocumented migrants from deportation. It isn’t perfect and it is not a long term regularisation as it doesn’t offer a pathway to citizenship. But it is nonetheless a very good news. The opposition of the Republican Party has repeatedly obstructed over the last decade any proposals for a comprehensive immigration reform. Fascinating to listen to the range of historical, pragmatic, and moral arguments that Obama lists in the speech to justify his decision to protect those undocumented migrants who have been in the US for a minimum of 5 years, fit a number of criteria and ‘come out of the shadow’ from deportation (temporarily): America is a land of immigrants and always will be, America is a meritocratic society, America is a country where everyone is equal and has the right to have a chance and the duty to pay taxes and contribute common good, and America values family. The analysis of Obama’s reasoning offers a lens through which to understand what ‘being American’ as an ideological construct is today. It defines the boundaries of an imagined community of values that the President hope to talk to and ultimately mobilise in support of the executive order (and eventually vote for the Democrats). Many observers have juxtaposed Obama’s previous stand on comprehensive immigration reform and regularisation and his record has the President that oversaw the largest number of deportations in American history accusing him of ambiguity and incoherence, and have reduced the issue to a matter of disjunction between political rhetoric and administrative action. Instead, this speech offers a more political explanation of why and how the two positions go hand in hand for Obama’s imagined America and why the ‘tough touch’ is essential to cumulate enough political capital to grant a quasi-regularization (people are still going to be undocumented but non-deportable for a fixed period of time) of 5m undocumented migrants.
If we move our gaze to this side of the Pond, what is the imagined community that David Cameron, Nigel Farage and others project and aim to realise? Currently there is no senior politician that talks openly of a regularisation for undocumented migrants – although this doesn’t necessarily mean that a de facto regularisation might not happen. Over 120,000 undocumented children – half of whom are UK-born to irregular migrant parents – live a broken youth. They are denied the right to dream a future in the country where they were born or spent most of their lives. Their families live in continuous fear of detection and deportation, and find increasing difficult to find accommodation because landlords have been entrusted with immigration control duties, and employment due to highly mediatic workplace raids that spread fear among potential employers. For a more detailed analysis of the condition of undocumented children, young people and family in the UK: – Sans Papiers: The social and economic lives of young undocumented migrants (Bloch, Sigona and Zetter 2014) – No Way Out, No Way In (Sigona and Hughes 2012) – UK’s DREAMers? Undocumented children in the UK – TEDx talk