The usual voices said trite things when a sliver of Richmond, Virginia Republican primary voters last Tuesday rejected Eric Cantor’s bid to continue as Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. With a margin of just over 7,200 votes out of roughly 62,000 cast, David Brat, a college economics professor and Johnny-one-note who beat the anti-amnesty drum with gusto, eked out a victory over a powerful politico and unleashed a flood of prognosticators who argue that immigration reform in this Congress is dead.
Those of us who still believe reform will happen, if not soon but inevitably, are likely to be derided as incurable optimists, much like the young boy in Ronald Reagan’s “pony in the manure” joke. As I explained, however, to Roy Maurer, Online News Manager/Editor for the Society of Human Resources Management (“Does Cantor Loss Signal the Demise of Immigration Reform?”):
Eric Cantor’s loss is not a death blow to immigration reform. The economic and moral imperative to resolve an issue of this magnitude is far larger than one individual’s loss in the primary to talk-media stoked anti-amnesty rantings. Changes will occur as leaders come to the fore — whether, for example, by Majority Leader Boehner with incremental action in the House or by President Obama through executive orders, or by others. The struggle for reform is not over; it may be slowed a bit, but the country’s prosperity and its social fabric depend on fixing this broken system.
Immigration reform is not dead because Americans, by an overwhelming margin of 62% in recent polling, favor enacting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in our country. It is not dead because the following problems will not go away merely because 7,200 or so Republicans in Virginia tossed out Eric Cantor (who — unlike steadfast reformer Lindsey Graham, a victor in his GOP primary — blew hot and cold on amnesty versus reform):
- The economy is impaired when jobs that H-1B workers could create for American workers never materialize because of a skimpy quota enacted without economic justification in 1990 and when years-long green card quotas dissuade highly-coveted STEM workers from casting their lot with the U.S.;
- Immigration crimes (largely by those seeking reunification with family members) form the bulk of all federal prosecutions;
- U.S. citizen children are separated in ever larger numbers from their devoted, albeit undocumented, parents because of a removal policy meant to show Republicans that President Obama can be trusted to enforce current immigration laws — a strategy that hasn’t succeeded in winning Republican hearts and minds;
- The immigration detention apparatus, outsourced largely to for-profit companies, reveals shocking human rights abuses;
- A flood of immigrant children appear at our Southern border, creating a humanitarian crisis, because our foreign policy does not address the “push” factors in their countries of origin that compel their northern migration.
These problems will only fester until our politicians realize that the American people have had enough. Meantime, advocates for reform will continue pushing, while opponents use the techniques of distortion and diversion to forestall the inevitable. Leaders will emerge. As Steve Case reminded us with the words of Nelson Mandela, “it always seems impossible, until it’s done.”