Cantor defeat sets back tech’s immigration plans

 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) stunning loss in his Tuesday primary could deal a blow to the tech industry’s efforts to enact immigration reform by the end of the year.

Little-known economics professor Dave Brat’s surprise victory was widely seen as a rebuke to Cantor’s openness to immigration reform. Brat himself called the issue the “clear differentiator” between the two candidates. 

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That’s bad news for the tech industry, which has made the issue a priority this year.

“I think it’s obviously going to have a significant impact on immigration reform and the ability to get anything done on that this year,” said Mike Hettinger, public sector senior vice president at the trade group TechAmerica.

Andy Halataei, senior vice president of government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, another trade group, said Cantor’s loss would damage public perception on the odds of reform more than anything.

“It certainly doesn’t help in the sense that we’re going to have to deal with that perception,” he said.

The tech sector has elevated the issue as one of its top priorities for the year and had been among the most vocal lobbyists urging House Republican leaders to take up legislation this year.

Hours before Cantor’s upset on Tuesday, pro-reform advocacy groups linked to Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg released two new advertisements meant to prod congressional leaders on the issue, in a sign that they were still optimistic about the odds of a bill getting to the House floor. 

Despite the conventional wisdom that the race effectively killed the chances of reform this year, some advocates said they were not discouraged.

“Everyone always says, ‘This is the final nail,’ ‘No this is the final nail,’” said Halataei.

“If this were easy, it would’ve been done already,” he continued. “We always knew immigration reform would be a challenge, and we’ve been working on this through the whole Congress.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was a supporter of immigration reform in the Senate, yet he overcame challengers in his primary race on Tuesday, reform advocates noted.

On Wednesday, the Zuckerberg-backed group FWD.us released a poll showing that 71 percent of the country backs a plan to allow guest workers and grant legal status to illegal immigrants already in the country.

Critics of the industry’s involvement in the issue say that tech companies are pushing for an influx of cheap foreign labor that would undercut U.S. jobs.

Aside from immigration, tech advocates said they were still trying to understand whether or not Cantor’s loss would portend a major shakeup of their plans on patent reform, taxes, surveillance and a host of other issues.

“I think everybody is scratching their heads trying to figure out what’s going on,” said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a lobbyist at the Monument Policy Group. "There’s going to be a little bit of trying to figure out what this means for the rest of the year.”

Many industry priorities seem to cross party lines, which supporters said should make them immune to politics within the House leadership. Policy wonks, not chamber leaders, set the agenda on many of the issues.

“Technology, it’s an issue that comes out of the committees,” Hettinger said, nothing that legislation tends to pass through the House Commerce, Oversight or Judiciary panels before reaching the House floor.

“We focus on the committees, who the committee chairs are and the subcommittee chairs,” he added. “Obviously, you want to have strong leadership who can help you implement what comes out of those committees. That’s what we’ll be watching as we go into this process.”