Eric Cantor's stunning upset to Tea Party-backed David Brat in Virginia on Tuesday night was bad news for moderate Republicans, and, at first blush, it also looked grim for any business owner hoping for comprehensive immigration reform.
Brat has signaled quite clearly his opposition to any form of immigration amnesty, and he opposes the Dream Act, which would make it easier for certain immigrants to appeal for eventual U.S. citizenship.
At the same time, it's possible that his views on immigration are slightly more nuanced than many believe, and that could provide a glimmer of hope to entrepreneurs keen on freeing up the labor market stateside. Technology firms in hubs like Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley have expressed the need for attracting more highly skilled technology workers from overseas.
Here's what Brat told the Richmond Times Dispatch over the weekend:
With 50 million Americans in their working-years unemployed, the last thing we should do is provide amnesty or any form of work authorization to illegal immigrants...Eric Cantor believes that we need to import more low-wage foreign workers at the expense of lower wages and fewer jobs for Virginia families. Cantor also favors the Dream Act and Enlist Act principles. A vote for Eric Cantor is a vote for open borders and corporate handouts. I pledge to work for all the people of our district and will always oppose amnesty. I support legal immigration, but it needs to be done within the context of the rule of law.
Immigration reform already had strikes against it. An impasse emerged in February when Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) told his caucus there would be no movement on reform in the House until a new president had been elected.
And it's a huge, unresolved issue, with some of the most dynamic parts of the economy at stake. Some 12 million undocumented workers reside in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center estimates. About 70 percent of all agricultural workers are undocumented, according to American Nursery and Landscaping Association. And nearly half of all companies in Silicon Valley have at least one founder who is an immigrant, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation released in October 2012. These companies employ more than half a million workers and generate revenues of $63 billion.
"The country is deeply divided on the legalization of the undocumented, but it largely agrees on skilled immigration and the DREAM Act," says Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and the lead researcher on the Kauffman study.
About two thirds of U.S. citizens favor a path toward legalization for undocumented workers, according to a 2013 report from the Public Religion Research Institute.
Here are some other highlights from that report, which also shows strong Republican support for immigration reform.
- Roughly six-in-10 Republicans (60 percent) and independents (57 percent) and approximately seven-in-10 (73 percent) Democrats favor a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
- Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (55 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), Catholics (62 percent), minority Protestants (69 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (64 percent) also favor a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
Despite the recent setback, some business groups remain optimistic about immigration reform. For one, the Silicon Valley Leadership, which has lobbied heavily for comprehensive immigration reform, is undeterred.
"Many Republicans supportive of immigration reform won their primaries," Emily Lam, vice president of Health Care and Federal Issues for SVLG. "We will continue to push as hard as possible to make sure the window of opportunity stays open."
But time is running out, according to some big name entrepreneurs, like Steve Case, founder and former chief executive officer of AOL, who spoke to Inc. in late May about immigration reform.
"My fear is if it doesn't happen in the next three months, it probably won't happen in the next three years," Case said. "Then you'll move into the November election cycle and then the presidential election cycle."