Young immigration reform activists are reacting to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) unexpected primary loss by calling on President Obama to take executive action to end deportations.
Cesar Vargas, a spokesman for the youth-led DRM Action Coalition, told Fusion that Cantor’s defeat means there is no chance of passing immigration reform through Congress in the near future and that Obama should act now.
“If there was any pulse,” Vargas said, “it’s flatlined right now, at least legislatively.”
Yet some activists have seen the primary results as an opportunity to press Cantor — who had endorsed a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and then backed away from immigration reform under fire from his opponent, Tea Party challenger David Brat — to pass reform now that he has “nothing to lose.”
Members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) planned to urge Cantor to bring legislation to the House floor at a press conference Wednesday morning in front of the Capitol and to call on the president to end what the group calls a “needless deportation crisis.”
Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the group, told Fusion that, given the increasingly diverse demographics of the country, if Republicans don’t “get right on immigration reform, what happened with Cantor is going to happen writ large with the Republican Party.”
Matos blames Cantor’s loss not on his immigration policy stance, but “more on his failure to lead. He flip-flopped on the issue repeatedly.”
She pointed to a survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling that suggests a majority of people in Cantor’s district support immigration reform and said there’s “no downside” to him bringing it to the House floor for a vote.
She said primary victories by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was a member of the Senate’s gang of eight working toward comprehensive immigration reform, and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who backs legalization for undocumented immigrants, are a sign that Republican leadership should move forward on immigration reform.
“My guess is that the Republican Party right now is scrambling around trying to engage in a postmortem about what happened,” she said. “The reality is that this issue is an issue where the overwhelming majority of Americans are clear.”
But Vargas doesn’t see that 180-degree pivot happening.
“I don’t expect him to say, ‘Hey, I lost, I’ll do the right thing.’ Congress doesn’t work on that type of ethics,” he said. “The real challenge is…members are not there yet, the votes are not there yet, because of the fact that the Tea Party is freaking everyone out.”
Brat’s Tea Party victory may make Republicans who were contemplating endorsing reform skittish ahead of the midterms. Vargas said the loss shows young people that “miracles are not going to happen.”
Instead, DRM Action Coalition and other young activist groups like United We Dream see the loss as a sign that Obama should take executive action now. He had delayed administrative relief to give the House more time to pass legislation, Vargas said, but Republicans are making it “very clear” they don’t intend to take up the legislation.
Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, sees merit in both arguments, but thinks ultimately, Obama should take executive action to end deportations.
She told Fusion, “For us, last night’s primary results make the call for the president to act grow louder.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.