Barack Obama brought hope to the entire world when he was elected president of the United States in 2009 and then again in 2012 for a second term.
During his first visit to Europe, marked by a trip to Berlin, the Europeans welcomed him as one of their own and with more warmth and optimism than they have bestowed on any of their own leaders in recent history.
The election of the country’s first African-American leader – seen as a spokesperson for the oppressed people of the world – to the superpower’s top post stirred hopes for a revival of democracy around the world and rekindled our lost faith in equality and brotherhood.
In the years that followed, the charismatic president came under fire. He disappointed his supporters and was judged harshly when he went back on major promises, mostly because he came under an enormous amount of pressure from the rabid reactions of the far right, and the fundamentalist Tea Party in particular.
On Thursday, however, Obama took a historic step. Bypassing the Republican-controlled Congress, he announced an executive decision to legalize some 5 million irregular migrants in the US.
“We are and always will be a nation of immigrants… If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” the US president said in a televised address watched across the nation and in which he showed that he has rediscovered the passionate rhetoric of the evangelical democrat who galvanized the country in 2008 in speeches in Philadelphia and Chicago.
Yet Thursday’s announcement was incomplete, as of the 11 million irregular migrants estimated to be living in the US today just 5 million will be able to come out of the shadows and then for only three years when the presidential decree expires. The newly legalized migrants, moreover, will pay taxes but will not enjoy the same benefits as other American citizens and will not be issued passports. They will only come halfway out of the shadows.
Nevertheless, Obama’s partial amnesty, with strings, is historic and will push his objectors to equally forceful action: They will either continue to fight against reality or grit their teeth and come to terms with it.
Either way, Obama has sent a message and has set an example. Is Europe paying attention?