Chances for immigration reform dimmed even more this week, following the defeat of House Republican leader Eric Cantor. His surprising loss in the Virginia primary to Tea Party candidate David Brat is causing ripple effects here in Washington state, too, as local immigration advocates are rethinking their strategy.
Rich Stolz, director of One America, a large immigrant advocacy organization in Washington state, happened to be in Washington, D.C., this week for a slate of meetings on immigration reform and therefore had a front seat to the initial buzz about Cantor’s loss.
"My first reaction was, 'He probably got what he deserved,'" Stolz said with a chuckle.
Stolz said Cantor tried to play immigration reform both ways, as he initially came out in support of reform, then he later blocked a bill to do just that.
Cantor came across as moderate on immigration compared with his Tea Party challenger who took a harder line. Stolz expects Cantor’s loss may cause other GOP leaders to steer clear of the issue. But in the bigger picture, Stolz said immigration reform is gaining ground with conservatives, even within the Tea Party.
"The fact that a portion of the Tea Party has come out to support immigration reform reflects how far we’ve come in five years," Stolz said.
Last month, national Tea Party leader Sal Russo endorsed an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for millions who are in the U.S. illegally. Some Tea Partiers in Washington state have also backed that position, although immigration is still a divisive issue within the Tea Party.
Stolz said if the U.S. House fails to act on comprehensive immigration reform, advocates will likely push harder on President Barack Obama to slow down deportations. Locally, Stolz said, advocates will circle back with the state’s Republican delegates in Congress, such as Dave Reichert and Doc Hastings, and ask them to voice their support for immigration reform a little more loudly.