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Either Party Could Benefit From a Move on Immigration

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In Rep. Kathy Hochul's New York district, a generally conservative dairy farmer said either party could gain his support by pushing forward on immigration reform.

OAKFIELD, N.Y. — Congress has been unable to make any progress on an immigration overhaul for years, but for voters such as dairy farmer Matt Lamb, the party that figures out a way forward will go a long way toward securing his vote. Lamb is a self-described conservative guy and a longtime Republican voter, but he’s considering casting his ballot for Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul and President Barack Obama because of what he calls his most important issue.

Lamb has more than 2,000 cows on his family farm that need to be milked three times a day, and he struggles to find the labor to do it. He puts ads in local papers but still is at pains to find adequate help. Lamb uses some foreign workers, but the current immigration system makes it almost impossible for him to get visas for potential new employees. And since the push for immigration changes during the George W. Bush administration, he’s seen the GOP move in what he thinks is the wrong direction on his key issue.

“Generally, agriculture votes Republican,” Lamb said in an interview earlier this month. “We traditionally have been [Republican] on this farm. But right now, being able to carry out our business is the single most important thing. I’m a single-issue voter: Where’s my labor going to come from?”

Voters like Lamb — in need of workers, tired of the stalemate in Washington, D.C. — could present an opening for Democrats. And that could be pivotal in close districts such as this one in Western New York.

It is heavily Republican, but Hochul is running a strong campaign against Republican Chris Collins in a race that Roll Call rates as a Tossup. 

Whoever wins the White House could gain immense political capital for his party with the growing Latino population in the United States if he successfully pushes for an immigration overhaul, but experts on the issue put the onus on Congress to move the ball forward. And the outlook for that — from the specific issue of agricultural visas to the broader rejiggering of the nation’s immigration laws — is bleak.

“I have a hard time seeing comprehensive immigration reform go anywhere in the next four years unless Republicans in Congress take leadership on this issue,” said GOP strategist Ana Navarro, who served as an adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and is deeply plugged-in on immigration issues.

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