Although it occurred some 2,500 miles away, the stunning defeat of Republican Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary triggers reverberations that will be felt in this corner of the country.
Cantor, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, lost his primary race last week to political novice Dave Brat, and one of the key issues was immigration policy — or the lack thereof. Cantor was viewed by the hardened edge of the conservative movement as being soft on immigration because he actually had — gasp! — broached the prospect of working toward a solution.
A “solution,” of course, means some sort of amnesty and/or pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in this country illegally — and to many critics, such a pathway is anathema. The problem with that reflexive repulsion to amnesty, however, is the utter futility of it. It is not reasonable to detain and deport some 11 million people (including an estimated 230,000 in this state), many of whom have been establishing roots in this country for years or decades. Mass expulsions do not make for sound social policy or sound economic policy.
The number of illegal immigrants has grown through decades of poor border security and lax enforcement of laws, but even then the depth of the issue is difficult to discern. In February, The Economist reported that illegal immigrants were being deported at nine times the rate of 20 years ago; in April, the Los Angeles Times declared the opposite — that deportations are down 40 percent from 2009.
That said, any immigration reform must be multipronged. There must be strengthened border enforcement, tough sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and, yes, a long-term attempt at some form of amnesty. A pathway to citizenship will not entirely solve the problem, as the sweeping immigration reform of 1986 demonstrated; it must be accompanied by other measures and a commitment to uphold the laws of this country. All of this, however, likely is moot for the foreseeable future in the wake of Cantor’s loss — and that will be felt in Washington state.
Washington’s heavy economic reliance upon agriculture also means a heavy reliance upon workers who often are migratory illegal immigrants. But there also are high-tech companies in this state that rely upon skilled workers, often from foreign countries, and there are many aspects in which immigrants contribute to the economy. The Washington Compact, an immigration advocacy group made up of business, religious, and political leaders in the state, estimates that comprehensive immigration reform would increase the Gross State Product by $21.3 billion over a 10-year period. (On the other hand, the Heritage Foundation calculates that amnesty would cost Americans $6.3 trillion over 10 years).
Still, a lack of progress on immigration issues can be seen as damaging to Washington. And, on a side note, Cantor’s loss also could negatively impact the state’s largest private employer — Boeing. Brat had criticized Cantor for supporting the federal Export-Import Bank, which arranges financing to help foreign airlines afford to purchase Boeing’s planes. The bank is up for reauthorization from Congress, and Cantor’s political demise will make that less likely. The day after the Virginia primary, Boeing’s stock price saw its steepest drop in two months.
There is an axiom in politics, one that is reinforced by Cantor’s loss, that elections have consequences. It’s just not often that the consequences of a state primary are felt on the other side of the country.