Will New House Majority Leader McCarthy Help or Hurt Immigration Reform?

Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

Eric Cantor’s resignation as House Majority Leader has led to promotions within the Republican Caucus. Today I wanted to look at Kevin McCarty, Cantor’s successor as Majority Leader.

McCarthy is from the southern end of California’s great Imperial Valley, the heart of West Coast agriculture. His district has a growing immigrant population and farming interests have been pressing him for immigration reform over the last two years. He has also been the focus of a campaign by local and national immigration reform groups to change our laws on immigration.

Last fall, McCarthy sounded optimistic on immigration. When asked by a reporter if immigration reform was dead, he responded. “No, immigration reform is going to happen but it’s going to happen in a step-by-step method.”

Earlier this year, McCarthy talked about supporting a bill that would provide “legal status that will allow you to work and pay your taxes. But if you want to become a citizen, you’ll have to go through the path. There won’t be amnesty inside it.” This backing away from legalization with a path to citizenship has been characteristic of other Republican House leaders as well.

Immigrant advocates hope that the fact that 35 percent of the people in his district are Latino will influence his actions on immigration reform. However, in McCarthy’s last campaign he won over 73 percent of the total vote in the general election, making him much more secure than Eric Cantor ever was from challenges from the left or the right. McCarthy is more likely to be influenced by the needs of other House Republicans, western agricultural interests, and of the national party than he is by voters in his home district.

On the other hand, McCarthy’s “moderate” stance on immigration did not disqualify him from winning the second highest office in the House of Representatives in spite of the opposition of radical anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King. We can take some solace in that.

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