Senate official rejects Democrats’ latest immigration plan

FAN Editor

The official who interprets the Senate’s rules said Thursday that Democrats can’t include a provision in President Biden’s social spending plan that would offer work permits to unauthorized immigrants, yet again thwarting Democratic efforts to pass a longstanding policy goal without Republican votes, according to guidance obtained by CBS News.

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said a plan to allow 6.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status to apply for work permits and temporary protections from deportation could not be passed through the budget reconciliation process, which allows bills to be approved by a simple majority.

As parliamentarian, MacDonough is tasked with determining whether reconciliation proposals have a direct impact on the federal budget — a requirement for the procedure. She determined Democrats’ latest proposal was not primarily related to the budget.

“These are substantial policy changes with lasting effects just like those we previously considered and outweigh the budgetary impact,” MacDonough wrote in her opinion Thursday.

This is the third time MacDonough has ruled against Democrats’ attempts to include an immigration relief provision for some of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the wide-ranging social spending package that Democratic lawmakers hope to pass in the coming weeks.

To the dismay of progressive activists, the rejected proposal would not have placed the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization on a pathway to permanent status and citizenship — a policy Democrats and Mr. Biden have advocated for.

But the plan to offer work authorization and deportation protections to a large segment of the undocumented population represented Democrats’ clearest opportunity to pass some form of immigration relief before their razor-thin majority in Congress is threatened by the 2022 midterm elections.

For weeks, progressive lawmakers and activists have urged senators to ignore the parliamentarian — and those calls intensified Thursday. But it is unclear whether the necessary number of Democratic senators would vote to overrule her guidance.

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, center, joined by fellow House Democrats, attends a rally for immigration reform outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.. U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Bloomberg

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democratic senators Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez, Catherine Cortez Masto, Ben Ray Luján and Alex Padilla criticized the parliamentarian’s decision but did not commit to overruling her.

“We strongly disagree with the Senate parliamentarian’s interpretation of our immigration proposal, and we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act,” the senators said.

Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, urged Democratic lawmakers to disregard the parliamentarian’s opinions and offer undocumented immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship through the spending package. 

“Every single Democrat promised citizenship. They promised green cards and now they have the power in the House and they have the power in the Senate. And yes, it’s by a slim margin, but they have the power,” Salas, a former undocumented immigrant, told CBS News. “They are choosing not to use their political power on our behalf.”

Earlier this fall, the parliamentarian ruled against Democratic proposals that would have made undocumented immigrants eligible to become permanent residents, saying the plans were not primarily budget related.

Under the latest plan, certain immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2011 would be eligible for parole, an immigration benefit that allows non-citizens to live and work in the country legally. Applicants for the temporary program, which would expire in 2031, could be rejected if they fail to pass background checks.

While parole does not provide a direct pathway to permanent U.S. status, it could allow approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards if their immediate U.S. citizen family members are willing to sponsor them, according to a congressional estimate.

In her guidance on Thursday, MacDonough concluded the latest plan is “not much different in its effect than the previous proposals we have considered.” She said the plan would offer undocumented immigrants work authorization, travel documents and other benefits. Some would also be allowed to apply for a green card after receiving parole, MacDonough noted.

The plan, she said, would expand the parole program, which is designed to be granted on a limited, case by case basis.

Other immigration provisions in the Build Back Better plan passed by House Democrats include an effort to recirculate nearly 400,000 green cards that went unused during the past three decades and make them available to immigrants waiting in line. The plan would reduce the massive green card application backlog.

Another provision would exempt eligible immigrants in the U.S. from annual immigrant visa caps and allow them to get a green card if their applications have been approved for two years. 

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