Eric Cantor to step down: What it means for immigration reform?

Following a shocking loss in a primary election Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will resign his leadership position. Several Republican sources told a…
Eric Cantor to step down: What it means for immigration reform?

Rep. Eric Cantor plans to step down as House majority leader. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Following a shocking loss in a primary election Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will resign his leadership position.

Several Republican sources told a number of media outlets on Wednesday that Cantor will step down as majority leader within weeks. He is currently the No. 2 House Republican and highest-ranking Jewish member in Congress.

SEE ALSO: Tea Party deals blow to House majority leader Eric Cantor

Cantor was seen as someone who could move immigration reform legislation forward in the GOP-controlled House because of his high-ranking position. But now that he is stepping down, it begs the question: What does this mean for immigration reform?

There’s mixed reaction on what the future holds for immigration reform now that Cantor is stepping down. Some are declaring the issue to be almost certainly dead, while others are saying there’s still hope of passing legislation this year.

Cantor’s defeat to tea party favorite David Brat on Tuesday night left top sources close to the issue privately acknowledging to Politico that immigration reform is dead this year and questioning what to do next.

“I don’t know what this means. I’m very confused,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a longtime advocate of immigration reform, told Politico of Cantor’s defeat in a phone interview. “It clearly adds a lot of confusion and uncertainty and that’s the last thing we need.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) remained optimistic about the chances of moving forward with immigration reform in the House despite Cantor’s loss. In a tweet posted Tuesday night, Ros-Lehtinen said: “[S]ome will say immigration reform is dead. They r wrong.”

Like many House Republicans, Cantor has said he supports a piecemeal approach to immigration reform rather than take up the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill approved in the Senate last year. He has also come out in support of legalizing undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children and of allowing some undocumented youth to serve in the U.S. military.

Leading up to Tuesday’s primary election, Brat criticized Cantor’s stance on immigration and accused him of being in support of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. Amid the criticism from his opponent, Cantor sent out two mailers that portrayed him as a conservative Republican who is “stopping the Obama-Reid plan to give illegal aliens amnesty.” At the same time, his campaign stressed that he still backed immigration reform.

The mailers upset many pro-immigration reform advocates who criticized Cantor for trying to position himself on both sides of the immigration reform debate.

Eric Cantor ‘was no friend of immigration reform’

Advocates now argue that Cantor has not been a champion for immigration reform, because he didn’t do enough to push for a House vote on the issue.

They also don’t believe that Cantor’s defeat on Tuesday — nor his decision to step down as majority leader — will diminish the chances of passing immigration reform this year. They say House Speaker John Boehner is ultimately the one who can decide whether or not to bring up immigration reform legislation for a vote in the House.

“Let’s be clear: Eric Cantor was no friend of immigration reform,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement following Cantor’s defeat. “He’s been the main person in the House blocking a vote on citizenship, and he proudly campaigned on his opposition to reform.”

SEE ALSO: (Opinion) Why I got arrested at Eric Cantor’s office

Sharry added that maybe now that Cantor won’t return for another term, Boehner will be “freed up to do the right thing” and pass immigration reform legislation. But if that doesn’t happen, Sharry said President Barack Obama will be forced to take executive action to provide relief from deportations.

Obama has indicated he is willing to use his executive powers to address deportations if Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform legislation this year. He recently asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to hold off on a review of deportations until the end of the summer to give House Republicans time to pass immigration reform legislation.

Following Tuesday’s election results, advocates also pointed to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as an example of someone who championed for immigration reform and was still able to come out victorious in his primary showdown. He beat six challengers Tuesday night in the South Carolina GOP primary election.

The Republican senator was part of the Senate Gang of Eight who crafted the 1,300-page immigration reform bill. He has been vocal of his support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Kate Hansen, a spokeswoman for FWD.us, commended Graham for his support of immigration reform, saying he “took a principled stand fighting for immigration reform.” In contrast, she said Cantor “very unfortunately tried to have it both ways” by backing reform one day and sending out anti-reform mailers another day.

With only 10 legislative days before the July 4 recess, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday on the House floor that he hopes House Republicans will act on immigration reform.

“As I have said on this floor before, if there is no serious immigration reform action headed towards a floor vote in the House by July 4, we will not see action at all,” said Gutierrez, who has been pressuring House GOP leaders to act on immigration reform or risk having Obama take executive action to stop deportations.

SEE ALSO: Gutierrez: Immigration reform is dead if House doesn’t act by July 4