Majority Leader Eric Cantor was deposed in a shocking primary upset largely over his support for providing amnesty to illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as minors. However, in the campaign to replace him, anti-amnesty advocates say both candidates are largely coming from the same place Cantor was.
Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) both support legalization for the undocumented immigrants already in the country and are largely in line with establishment thinking on the issue.
“They are both what I would call high immigration guys. They are inclined to see the benefits of immigration, not the costs. They’re inclined to be sympathetic to employers who want more workers and not as inclined to see the general wage stagnation across the U.S. economy and the enormous number of working-age people not working,” Center for Immigration Studies director of research Steven Camarota explained to Breitbart News Monday.
Labrador has a nuanced relationship with immigration reform. A tea party lawmaker and an immigration lawyer by trade, he was a part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight in the House working on a reform agreement before he backed out of the group last June over a dispute dealing with healthcare for the eleven million undocumented immigrants.
“Anything we do is going to be called amnesty by any number of people. The reality is that we have to do something about the people that are here; we’ve got to figure out how to do it fairly, so we can solve the immigration problem,” Labrador told Roll Call in February 2013. “You’re going to get a majority of Republicans to support something that does something fair.”
Labrador’s website explains that he believes in border security and enforcement before any legalization but adds that he thinks 2014 is not the time for immigration reform because of House Republicans’ lack of confidence Obama will enforce such legislation and pressure for the Senate-passed immigration bill.
A statement on his website, however, indicates he’s optimistic about how quickly Obama can repair trust, saying “early 2015” will mark an optimal time to address the issue.
“The President can buy a lot of goodwill this year by working with Congress to enforce the laws already on the books and – if he does that – we can tackle immigration reform in early 2015 when we’ll be in a better position to negotiate and get real results for the American people,” Labrador’s website, which also boasts support for guest workers, reads.
In January, House Whip Kevin McCarthy was the first member of House GOP leadership to support legal status for undocumented immigrants. McCarthy does not support granting full citizenship to aliens.
“People understand that the immigration system today doesn’t work, that you have 42 percent of the people who are here illegally came here legally on a visa,” McCarthy said. “You have to reform the visa program. The chain migration system doesn’t work. You need a guest workers program.”
McCarthy also co-sponsored the ENLIST Act, with fellow Californian Rep. Jeff Denham, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented youth who serve in the military.
“There is a kind of an echo chamber there. There is kind of a leadership echo chamber and alternative perspectives that even view immigration more skeptically are not views that they hear,” Camarota said, arguing that McCarthy is motivated more by business interests and Labrador’s motivations are likely derived from his career as an immigration lawyer.
“[Labrador] is an immigration lawyer; I think he’s inclined to see the benefits of immigration and not the costs,” Camarota said.
Overall, according to Camarota, the pair are representative of the “echo chamber in D.C.” that is less concerned about the possible harm of high immigration levels than the benefits. “I do not think that they are different in that both of them are part of that elite echo chamber on immigration.”
Immigration hawk Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King (R-IA) – who has voiced displeasure at the haste of the leadership elections – said Labrador is no better on immigration than McCarthy as he supports “amnesty.”
“#Labrador is pro amnesty. If not this year, he has strongly advocated for amnesty next year. No fair trying to redefine amnesty,” King tweeted on Friday prior to Labrador’s announcement.
Shortly after Labrador announced his late candidacy, King followed up his initial tweet with, “Wanted: Applicants for Majority Leader, US House who have record opposing amnesty. Come see me. 2nd Request. No qualified applicants, yet.”
Numbers USA, an immigration reduction group, has given Labrador a higher rating this Congress than McCarthy, “C+” compared to an “F-” respectively. Both have lower ratings than Texas Republican Reps. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)’s “B” who backed out of the leadership race last week.
McCarthy’s low score this year from NumbersUSA, however, appears to be largely due to his co-sponsorship of the ENLIST Act. Overall, McCarthy’s lifetime rating is actually much higher than Labrador’s: an “A” to Labrador’s “B.“
When Roll Call gauged the support for the House Republican immigration principles – which argued enforcement first but a path to citizenship for certain undocumented children and legalization for certain undocumented immigrants – McCarthy said he supported it, Labrador said it was not the right time.
Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat changed nothing about the status of immigration reform in the House, despite the perception that the Virginian’s support for immigration reform played a role in his defeat.
“The issue with immigration reform has not changed,” Boehner said. “The president continues to ignore laws that he signed into law, violating his oath of office. He did it again with the recent release of these Taliban five. And I remind the president, again yesterday, that every time he does this, it makes it harder to gain the trust of our members to do the big things that need to be done.”