Guest editorial: Immigration reform loses with Cantor’s exit

From the Spokane Spokesman-Review

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Virginia primary Tuesday, Washington’s economy lost, too, if Republicans shrink further from immigration reform.

Cantor opponent Dave Brat pounded the GOP leader for his alleged squishy opposition to reforms, which for the rabidly nativist Tea Party crowd was insufficient. Change, already on life support for this congressional session, is dead for 2014 and maybe beyond, depending on the makeup of the new Congress next year.

Brat also criticized Cantor for his support for the Export-Import Bank, which loans money to the buyers of some U.S.-made goods, notably Boeing Co. airplanes. The bank is up for reauthorization but was already in trouble as a symbol of “corporate welfare.”

If Congress fails to keep the bank open, Boeing will be at a competitive disadvantage against foreign competition that gets the same kind of assistance from their governments. The company’s stock fell more than $3 Wednesday as analysts anticipated a loss of business by one of Washington’s mainstay businesses.

Another mainstay, agriculture, will also suffer for the nation’s unwillingness to deal rationally with immigration, and the 11 million-plus migrants here, some working for Washington growers of hops, asparagus, tree fruit; the list encompasses almost all the commodities state farmers produce.

Growers were reporting spot labor shortages back in March. Applications for H-2A visas for temporary workers already exceed last year’s total. And the decisions by California growers to leave some fields fallow this year because no water is available can cut two ways: Workers may not decide to come north if there is no work to sustain them along the way, or they may arrive with hopes that crops maturing early because of the warm spring will be ready for picking.

The Senate’s comprehensive reform bill, which passed last year, would make the H-2A program more flexible for workers and growers, as would at least one of the many reform proposals in the House. A less cumbersome system would be very helpful.

Washington high-tech companies also need reforms that will allow them to hire more foreign workers using the H-1B program. The Senate bill substantially increases the available slots to 110,000, and eventually 180,000, but includes protections for American workers. Washington universities are educating the next generation of high-tech innovators and entrepreneurs, who then must return to their native countries because they cannot get a visa or green card that would allow them to stay.

One of Brat’s attacks on Cantor showed him with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and accused him of wanting to import 20 million foreign workers instead of supporting American workers. Nonsense, but Salon suggests the link was “the kiss of death.”

Regardless of what you think of Facebook, if entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg can be vilified as the enemies of the United States, immigration reform — and our state and national economies — are in real trouble.