Immigration reform is not dead: Holtz-Eakin

The day after Eric Cantor’s surprising defeat in the Virginia Congressional primary, the Business Roundtable issued a report making the economic case for immigration reform. Cantor, the majority leader in the House, had lost to Dave Brat who attacked him as a proponent of immigration reform that would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. At the same time supporters of immigration reform were attacking Cantor as the single biggest opponent of reform.

The Business Roundtable, citing statistics from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Congressional Budget Office, argued that immigration reform would boost economic growth by about 5% and add millions to the workforce over 20 years. In addition the roundtable, which usually supports the Republican agenda, said immigration reform would reduce the federal deficit by almost $1.2 trillion over 20 years.

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Big business is not the only constituency that supports immigration reform; the majority of Republican primary voters do too, according to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of American Action Forum, a center-right Washington think tank. He attributes Cantor’s defeat to not paying enough attention to his district.

“Retail voters don’t want amnesty … but if you take that out of the equation and say this is legal status and they [immigrants] earn it, they say go,” Holtz-Eakin tells The Daily Ticker.

Related: Eric Cantor’s defeat means Congressional gridlock ‘is here forever’ says Jeff Macke

The forum surveyed Republican primary voters and found that four out of 5 supported a “step-by-step approach” to immigration reform that included border security, tracking visas, verifying employment and the payment of fines and back taxes.
These retail voters also support the expansion of H-1B visas for high-tech workers and a temporary worker program so long as those workers eventually go home, says Holtz-Eakin, who is also a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and former economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

He gives 40% odds that Congress will move on immigration this year. Watch the video above for more about the politics of immigration reform.

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