Eric Cantor's key shift on immigration

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2013 - 8:53 PM

2011 photo: Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, stands with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va..

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Congressional Republicans don't agree on whether immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented adults living in the United States. But the children of those immigrants, brought to the country through no fault of their own, are receiving support from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Cantor also favors STEM legislation -- providing green cards to immigrants who graduate from American universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

In the Senate, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and three other senators introduced a STEM bill last month that would increase the number of visas available under the H-1B program for people with special skills. It's a measure sorely needed to keep U.S. businesses competitive on a global scale, and Klobuchar rightly points out that many small- and medium-sized employers in Minnesota and elsewhere are struggling to find enough highly skilled workers.

In the House, Cantor voted against the 2010 DREAM Act, a bill offering citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who met strict requirements. The bill passed in the House but didn't survive a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate. Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted against the bill in 2010, but now serve on a bipartisan Senate group championing the idea.

The turnaround in the Republican ranks is significant, especially for Cantor, even if Republicans only support a watered-down version of the DREAM Act. Because the House is expected to muster the staunchest resistance to sweeping immigration reforms, Cantor's support for two of the least contentious measures is a sign that GOP leaders will push for some changes.

Making progress on immigration reform is important for Minnesota, too. That's why Minnesotans should urge the four members of their congressional delegation who voted against the legislation in 2010 -- Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Eric Paulsen, and Democrat Collin Peterson -- to reconsider their positions. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, and roughly two-thirds of them have been here for at least a decade, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Unfortunately, some Republicans want to make the citizenship for adults contingent upon unrealistic goals -- the government's perfection of border security and the E-Verify work authorization system.

Still, the growing bipartisan common ground around young people, as evidenced by Cantor's change of heart, is a good starting point for reform. It's no small matter that he chose to make his about-face last week in a high-profile speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

"One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents," Cantor said. "It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home."

Republicans and Democrats have argued this for decades, but at no point have enough of them come together at the same time to make change happen. Now is the time.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.)


    "Each year our colleges and universities graduate approximately 40,000 foreign nationals with master's and Ph.D. [degrees], many of whom are then forced to leave the country because there are not enough visa slots in our immigration system to permit them to stay."

    -U.S. Rep. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.

    • • •
    "America must be a country that makes things again, that invents things, that exports to the world, and to do that we need the world's talent. Right now we're educating and training our competition by sending students who obtain advanced degrees here in the U.S. back to their home countries. We don't want them creating the next Medtronic or 3M in India, we want them creating it right here in Minnesota and across America."

    -U.S. Sen. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-Minn.

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