While House leadership continues to stall a vote on comprehensive immigration reform, it continues to cater to the nativist wing of the Republican Party. On Thursday, House representatives approved another amendment filed by anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to allocate money for an investigation into the findings of a recent Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report. Earlier that day, the House Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing, primarily questioning Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about the same CIS report.
Reform legislation appears to be at a standstill and it appears many members of Congress may be apprehensive to tackle such an issue during an election year. During this time, the anti-immigrant movement has begun targeting members of Congress it views as “pro-amnesty” and supporting primary challenges against them. Ironically for the movement, however, this year’s continued inaction is revealing how unpopular its agenda is with many voters. One needs to look no further than the failed challenges that stridently anti-immigrant candidates posed to incumbent Republicans to recognize this.
In the 32nd District of Texas, Tea Party and anti-immigrant activist Katrina Pierson challenged incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions. Prior to beginning her Congressional campaign, Pierson was a local Tea Party organizer in Texas and contributor to several conservative media outlets including Fox News. Last July, she spoke at the anti-immigrant “DC March for Jobs” organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA).
Pierson took a strong stance against immigration reform proposals during the campaign and eventually signed the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) so-called “No amnesty pledge” – further entrenching her anti-immigrant stance. In the district’s March 4 primary election, Rep. Sessions handily beat Pierson by over 25 points, taking nearly 64% of the vote.
Perhaps no incumbent Republican was viewed as more vulnerable by the anti-immigrant movement than Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina. Beginning this year, Ellmers continued emphasizing her support for some reform measures. In a January 18 op-ed Ellmers wrote:
“We have problems, and there are solutions. I, for one, am excited to start this process and fix a broken system.”
Ellmers’ support of reform measures drew a primary challenge from North Carolina radio show host Frank Roche. Immigration was a very prevalent topic on the campaign trail and one of Roche’s primary campaign concerns. Roche, too, signed FAIR’s anti-immigrant pledge saying, “As a member of Congress I will work to block any bill advocating for such from reaching the floor, or vote against any bill that proposes any type of legalization of illegal immigrants.”
As the brief visualization below notes, despite the anti-immigrant movement’s targeting of Ellmers, Roche did not succeed in his primary challenge. Ellmers took the race by seventeen points. The anti-immigrant movement’s choice candidate, again, did not succeed. Click on our interactive timeline below to examine nativist targeting of Ellmers more closely.
More will be known in the coming weeks as more primary elections are held, but early trends are emerging. Other Republicans that the anti-immigrant movement has opposed, like Speaker John Boehner, have also skated to victory against far-Right primary challengers expressing opposition to any pro-reform stances. By continuing to support incumbent candidates, voters may be casting a vote for continued inaction.
However, post-primary challenges, these outcomes might signify that reform still has a glimmer of hope to pass this year. More promising than that, however, is these results evidencing voters’ receptiveness — or lack there of — to the nativist policies advocated by the anti-immigrant movement.