Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Down but not done: Cantor's loss not end for immigration reform

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 9:39 AM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss Tuesday was a blow to immigration reform
  • Cantor's opponent made an issue of the majority leader's position on so-called "Dreamers"
  • President Obama faces increasing pressure to use power of pen on immigration reform

Share your personal stories about immigrating to the U.S. with CNN iReport.

Washington (CNN) -- The chances of immigration reform passing in the House this year were already slim before its majority leader, Eric Cantor, lost his primary on Tuesday.

So, by the time Cantor announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down from his leadership post on July 31, those who oppose any type of amnesty for illegal immigrants were sounding the death knell for related legislation on Capitol Hill.

In his victory speech, Dave Brat, the economics professor who defeated Cantor by double digits, cited the lawmaker's willingness to consider a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants as one of his opponent's weak flanks.

And pundits said that will be a lesson to others who might dare to push for reform.

"It is a bombshell," CNN senior political analyst David Gergen said on CNN of Cantor's loss. "I think it does mean more gridlock ahead, especially on immigration. Immigration reform is now dead."

Those who support such measures as granting a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers — the children of those who came to the country illegally — raced to put Cantor's defeat in context.

"Some things do not change after a primary. Even a primary result that no one, including the winning candidate, had predicted," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois Democrat and staunch immigration advocate, said on the House floor on Wednesday. "Immigration reform is not dead. It might just be moving to the White House for action if none comes from this House."

There was always a short window in this Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the House before lawmakers leave for the summer in August and before the midterm elections in November, legal and political experts say.

Maybe immigration reform isn't dead after all

Last year, the Senate approved a sweeping immigration reform package, including a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million of the more than 11 million undocumented workers in the country, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office.

Though roughly one-third of Republicans supported the measure, the legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled House as lawmakers there weighed more gradual reforms.

Crisis immigration centers under fire
Anchor goes after Boehner on immigration
An immigration warning to GOP

Cantor had publicly backed proposals giving Dreamers the chance to receive some type of legal status, however he voted against the broader Senate measure.

"Cantor ignored the advice of every Republican pollster and tried to be wishy-washy on immigration," Gutiérrez told CNN in a statement. "He didn't convince the pro-immigration side he was with them and he didn't convince the anti-immigration side he was with them. And he lost. That is not what happened to Sen. (Lindsey) Graham in South Carolina, Rep. (Renee) Elmers in North Carolina, or a number of others who have made a clear case for immigration reform that is not 'amnesty.'"

Cantor's loss might make other Republicans facing conservative challenges skittish, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University Law School.

"One primary does not determine the fate of immigration reform, however it does make it harder for Republicans to do anything before the August recess," Yale-Loehr said.

But it's not all up to the House.

Should Obama use the power of his pen to turn the tide on immigration reform?

President Barack Obama has also been under pressure from immigration activists and members of his own party to use executive action to push through reform — especially if the House fails to act before the recess.

He rejected any notion that Cantor's defeat means the end for immigration reform in the House -- a message he said he would relay to Speaker John Boehner.

"At a certain point, issues are important enough to fight for. My argument about yesterday's election is not that there was too little politics -- there was too little conviction about what was right," Obama said at a fundraiser in Boston, according to a press pool account.

"We need to get immigration reform done."

The flood of hundreds of unaccompanied children crossing into this country daily and overflowing holding centers is an issue that could further hasten the administration to act, immigration legal experts say.

Obama has called the border situation involving children "an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated federal response" and has established a group that will work across federal agencies to help address the problem.

In the meantime, supporters also want the President to do more to slow the record number of deportations during his presidency.

There have been roughly 2 million deportations under Obama, a number that far eclipses previous presidencies and led the head of the National Council of La Raza to dub him "the deporter-in-chief."

He has directed the administration to reexamine its deportation policy. Immigration reform advocates also want the administration to make noncriminals and minor offenders the lowest deportation priorities and extend amnesty to the parents and guardians of Dreamers.

"Just because Cantor lost doesn't mean that all of those other conversations and criticisms about not doing something about immigration goes away," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN contributor. "The likelihood was that the President was planning to use executive action anyway regardless of what happened to Cantor."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:29 PM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Their approval rating is horrendous. They rarely get along or get anything done. So here's your chance to do something about it.
Here's CNN's take on the key races in the House and the Senate this midterm year -- along with the key gubernatorial races across the country.
Voters head to the polls over the coming months to choose their candidates for November's general election. Here's a look at who votes when
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
President Obama is vowing to act on his own due to House inaction on immigration reform But there are limits to the power of his pen.
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The major story line so far in 2014 is the ongoing battle that pits mainstream Republicans against tea party and anti-establishment groups.
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
S. E. Cupp interviews Carly Fiorina about her effort to rally conservative female voters for Senate races.
Some Democrats say there may be a silver lining in the ruling: It could motivate younger women and unmarried women to show up at the polls come November.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The GOP establishment, incumbent and mainstream candidates scored big wins.
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
This California Republican's back story is full of plot twists.
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
Why and how did a well-funded, powerful, conservative member of Congress lose to a political novice?
updated 3:44 PM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
President Obama's new rules aimed at dramatically limiting carbon pollution has been a policy priority of his and one that he hopes will help to shape his legacy.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, might not be the Republican Party's key to electoral victory as once thought.
updated 5:43 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
An advocacy group backed by hedge fund tycoon Tom Steyer is set to unleash a seven-state, $100 million offensive against GOP "science deniers."
Mitch McConnell mined decades of battle-hardened experience and carefully-tended relationships inside the GOP to win his primary.
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Fri May 16, 2014
Flooding the airwaves this election year are Democratic ads featuring two men not on any ballot, and not even politicians.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
Taking a cue from Beyonce, House Democrats are targeting "all the single ladies" to try to win a few Republican-held seats.
A small edge right now in a key indicator of the midterm elections could lead to a big advantage for the Republicans come November.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year through a new organization called Everytown for Gun Safety.
ADVERTISEMENT