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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is facing his most significant primary challenge since he first won the Republican nomination for his Virginia congressional seat in 2000. With a few weeks to go before the June 10 election, he has hammered his opponent, Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat, on the air with negative ads while seeking to boost his own conservative credentials. In short, he’s taking the challenge seriously.
Cantor’s latest attempt is to brand himself as a staunch critic of immigration reform efforts that passed the Senate last year but have stalled in the Republican-controlled House. According to reports, the GOP leader sent out a campaign mailer that claims Cantor is "stopping the (President Barack) Obama-(Sen. Harry) Reid plan to give illegal immigrants amnesty." He went on to claim the "liberal plan would give six million illegal aliens citizenship."
The timing of the flier is interesting; just last week, Cantor reaffirmed his support of a plan that would give citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who enter the U.S. military. Some might call that amnesty.
But let’s go back to the Senate plan and take a look at whether Cantor’s mailer is an accurate portrayal of the bill.
Is it amnesty?
We asked Cantor’s campaign to explain the language of the ad to us. They didn’t respond.
Is it reasonable to call the Senate bill "amnesty"? In the past, we’ve said yes and no, generally settling on Half True.
In addition to spending billions on new border control measures, the bill also seeks to address the status of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants already residing in the United States. Some of those individuals would be eligible for a pathway to citizenship. In that respect, the bill does include an amnesty provision, because in legalese, the previous offense (in this case entering the country illegally) is eventually forgiven.
But the path to citizenship is not without significant hurdles and the bill does not "give" away citizenship status, as Cantor portends in his campaign literature. For many people, it would take up to 13 years before they are legally citizens. And it’s not free, either.
The bill would allow people to seek "Registered Provisional Immigrant Status," by demonstrating residence in the United States prior to Dec. 31, 2011, having no felony convictions and not more than two misdemeanors and paying a $500 penalty plus back taxes. Another $500 would be required after six years. After 10 years under Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, a person could pay $1,000 and seek a green card using a new merit-based system.
People brought here illegally as minors, known as "Dreamers," and some agricultural workers would get green cards in five years, versus the 10 for everyone else who qualifies.
New security measures would have to be underway before unauthorized immigrants could begin that process, however.
Is it Obama and Reid’s bill?
Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid both support the Senate immigration bill. Reid voted for it, and Obama has called on the House to take up the legislation.
But it’s a tough sell to pin the bill entirely to those two Democratic leaders, and by calling it a 'liberal" plan, Cantor conveniently leaves out that it had sizeable Republican backing.
For starters, the bill is largely the product of the so-called "Gang of Eight," a group of four Democratic and four Republican senators who spent months working on the legislation before successfully ushering it through the upper chamber. Obama’s efforts were mostly behind the scenes. Perhaps the most significant addition to the Gang of Eight was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who joined Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and added a critical conservative and Latino voice to the debate.
Someone on the left could just as easily call it the Rubio-Graham plan. It's far more accurate to label it a bipartisan proposal.
The four Republicans in the "gang" weren’t the bill’s only GOP supporters, either. When it passed 68 to 32 in June 2013, 14 Republicans eventually voted for it. The Democratic caucus supported it unanimously, supplying the other 54 votes. Still, that makes it about as bipartisan a measure as you’ll see pass out of the Senate on such a controversial topic these days.
While many conservative groups have come out against the Senate bill, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a right-of-center organization, has backed the immigration reform efforts, as have faith-based groups that more often side with the GOP on social issues.
That’s not to say it’s not a contentious or politically charged piece of legislation. But characterizing it Reid and Obama's liberal bill is a distortion of reality.
In recent campaign literature, Cantor said the Senate immigration bill is "liberal" and the "Obama-Reid plan to give illegal immigrants amnesty." Reasonable people might consider this amnesty, but it’s a much more rigorous path to citizenship than Cantor lets on in his flier. It’s certainly not a "give" away.
Further, the plan had significant support from both sides of the aisle, both inside the Senate and from outside organizations. The bipartisan Gang of Eight is credited with putting together the package, not Obama and Reid.
Weighing all of that, we think Cantor is intentionally misleading Virginia voters on this issue. We rate his claim Mostly False.
National Journal, "Eric Cantor Wants You to Know He Stopped Plan 'to Give Illegal Aliens Amnesty,'" May 28, 2014
Washington Post, "Cantor clarifies position on one part of immigration debate," May 21, 2014
PolitiFact, "Sen. Marco Rubio says immigration bill is not amnesty," April 17, 2014
Sen. Marco Rubio's website, summary of the bill, April 17, 2013
Sen. Charles Schumer's website, text of the legislation, April 17, 2013
Library of Congress, S.744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, accessed May 28, 2014
New York Times, "Senate, 68 to 32, Passes Overhaul for Immigration," June 27, 2013
Washington Post, "U.S. Chamber to ‘pull out all stops’ to pass immigration reform," Jan. 8, 2014
New York Times, "Catholic Push to Overhaul Immigration Goes to Pews," April 21, 2013
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