The stunning primary defeat of Eric Cantor could be a blessing for passing immigration reform. Cantor, as Majority Leader in the House and the number two Republican, was no ally of immigration reform and was likely an obstacle to crucial bi-partisan action. Always lurking in the shadows and clearly hoping to be the next Speaker of the House, Cantor was a threat to John Boehner. Apparently, continually working the inside game to become the Speaker, instead of being a member of Congress who represented his district was one of the biggest reasons Cantor lost his election.
But now that Cantor is gone and with him, his threat, we hope that John Boehner will be free to act, to do what his head and heart tells him is the right thing to do on immigration reform. “Bibles, Badges, and Business” have all been pressing Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform as both a moral and economic issue, one in the true spirit of America’s embrace of immigrants, and one in which the gospel is at stake in how we “welcome the stranger.”
What is also now clear is that lawmakers across the political system, who have publically supported immigration reform, won their primaries. Republicans, who have led on immigration reform, won handily. On the same night Eric Cantor lost, Senator Lindsay Graham – a strong champion for immigration reform who co-sponsored the Senate’s Immigration bill -won with roughly 60% of the vote in his South Carolina primary. Lindsay had the support of many evangelical Christians who have united in their support for immigration reform.
Cantor, who would not schedule a vote on the Senate bill that passed last year, lost his primary, while those Republicans who took a clear positive pro-reform stance won theirs. Graham, Representative Renee Ellmers, and others who were most vocal in their support for fixing our broken immigration system sailed through their primaries.
This could clear the path for a bi-partisan political and moral agreement on fixing a broken immigration system that daily breaks up families and is causing the massive human suffering that our pastors and priests are dealing with every day.
For many of us in the faith community, immigration reform is now the moral test of the U.S. Congress. New polls that also came out this week show a majority of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainline Protestants all want reform. And because the Republicans will decide this in the House, it is now all up to Speaker John Boehner. For us, it will be a moral choice and not just a political one. And one man will make that choice. For many in the faith community, immigration reform will be a moral test of the Republican Party, of the leadership and legacy of its leader John Boehner, and even their own electoral future.
Interestingly, Cantor’s opponent, Dave Brat, a self-described Tea Party leader, also identifies as a man of faith. Brat, who attends a Catholic church, is a graduate of Hope College, a higher education institution well knownwithin the evangelical community for thoughtful leadership and high-quality academics all grounded in Christian faith. While I have not polled Hope’s faculty, staff, and students, I suspect many of them would strongly disagree with Brat’s views. More importantly, we know that evangelicals across the country have been converted on this issue and now believe that how we treat 11 million undocumented people, is how we treat Christ himself. And that evangelical conversion is changing the discussion on immigration reform, across party lines. Most evangelicals—and Catholics-- disagree with Dave Brat on what we should do with the “strangers” among us. And this change in evangelical politics will ultimately help change national politics on immigration reform.
So John Boehner, the faith community is now looking to you to lead and to do what you have said lawmakers are elected to do—to solve problems. This is a moral issue and a faith issue for us and as a Catholic, it should be one for you too. Mr. Speaker, you will feel our presence all around you in these next critical weeks in which we must get reform done and show the country that our political leaders can still do something positive and bi-partisan, that our leaders can still make the moral choice, not just the political one. We are praying for you and all of your colleagues in the Congress. May God give you courage and wisdom in these next few weeks.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.