Immigration worries are back in the headlines after a sudden flurry of media attention to what has been a slowly building humanitarian catastrophe, the increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors reaching the U.S. southern border, some as young as 5 and 6, after a perilous crossing through Mexico from Central America. Escaping increasing violence and poverty in Central American states—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—where drug trafficking and street gang thuggery are driving up homicide rates, something in the vicinity of 60,000 of these minors, often “supervised” by coyote networks paid by their families, are expected this year to reach the border.The Obama administration worries that even more will come next year, as many as 130,000. The children’s crusade to the U.S. border is unprecedented. As recently as 2011 a mere 6,000 or so unaccompanied minors were tracked reaching the U.S./Mexico border.
Comprehensive immigration reform is also in the news because of an 11th hour push by U.S. bishops to highlight the issue this month as reform’s political fortunes flickered. “The time to act is now,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a June 5 statement. “As pastors, we see the human consequences of this broken system each day in our parishes and social service programs, as families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings risk everything to find a better life for themselves and the ones they love,” said Archbishop Kurtz. “Our nation should no longer tolerate an unjust system.”
But now after the surprise-slaying of House Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor most political analysts seem to have reached a consensus that a fork has been properly put into immigration reform. The Richmond, Virginia Republican had been seen as most likely to succeed House Speaker John Boehner, but last night he lost in the Republican primary to a Tea Party neophyte, the “red hot” economics professor from Randolph-Macon College, David Brat. Many observers say its was Brat’s focus on Cantor’s position on immigration that abruptly ended Cantor’s political career in this unprecedented loss. Brat, a Catholic fan of Ayn Rand, insisted that Cantor was willing to make a deal on reform, alleging that his flip-flopping on immigration masked his acceptance of “amnesty” for undocumented residents, a worry that many analysts allege was the decisive concern among Cantor’s Richmond constituents. Cantor can’t say that the $5.5 million he raised during this election cycle was money well spent against Brat’s $200,000. Brat managed to poll 12 points ahead of Cantor—56 to 44 percent—in a lightly attended primary vote.
Beltway analysts at Politico insist that the outcome means there is no chance that any Republican will risk appearing even remotely favorable to immigration reform—even as problems related to the current immigration policy literally pile up at the border. But a counter narrative, oddly enough, also surfaced at Politico, which suggests that Cantor’s troubles can’t all be laid at amnesty’s door. A poll conducted election night in Cantor’s district, commissioned by the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change, attributed Cantor’s loss not to immigration, but to widespread dissatisfaction with the Congress member and with House Republican leadership in general. In fact, pollsters report that immigration reform “is actually quite popular in his district and voters want to see Congress act on it this year.” In fact, according to the June 11 survey, 72 percent of the voters in Cantor’s district support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation on the table in Washington right now with only 23 percent opposed
The fact that Sen. Lindsey Graham, considered far more favorable to immigration reform than Cantor, was easily renominated last night in South Carolina the same night suggests the Cantor story in Richmond might be more complicated than a voter revolt against immigration reform. Supporters of reform may take some consolation in this perspective. Reports of CIR’s demise may prove greatly exaggerated.
PHOTO: Migrants, consisting of mostly women and children, who disembarked from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bus, wait for a Greyhound official to process their tickets to their next destination at a bus station in Phoenix May 29. Latin American an d U.S. Catholic leaders are calling for greater protections for migrants, especially the record number of minors making the trip from Central America to the U.S. alone.