Build back better: Democrats deadlock on immigration reform after Senate parliamentarian’s decision

Democrats may have just done their best to put in place temporary protections for undocumented immigrants.

The failure of the Democrats’ immigration plan means millions of undocumented immigrants will continue to live without protection from deportation and without work permits that could have gone through “parole.”

Democrats hoped to include provisions protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation for a period of five years and allowing those who arrived in the United States before 2011 – an estimated 7 million – to apply for a renewable employment permit. five years in their climate and spending $ 2.2 trillion. bill, known as the Build Back Better Act.

But on Thursday it was announced that Senatorial MP Elizabeth MacDonough had decided they couldn’t do this.

MacDonough was asked to intervene because Democrats are trying to push through the Build Back Better law through budget reconciliation, a special legislative process that allows measures to be passed by the Senate by a simple majority. Since Democrats have a one-vote majority, reconciliation allows them to bypass the need for Republican support. Congressional rules require reconciliation measures to be tied to the budget, and the parliamentarian is responsible for determining what can and cannot be passed in this way.

MacDonough has repeatedly stated that immigration reform has effects beyond the budget and has already rejected Democrats’ immigration proposals twice in recent months. Democrats reduced their proposals in response. Now MacDonough appears to have decided that even their most recent and narrowest reform plan would have impacts far exceeding its budgetary consequences, making it inappropriate to include in a reconciliation bill.

It’s unclear where Democrats can go from here on immigration. With only a narrow majority in the House, a 50-50 Senate, and intense polarization on immigration, there is little room for them to adopt fixes for undocumented immigrants living under threat of deportation – without talk about the kind of systemic sweeping reforms they’ve been promising voters for years. And to the extent that there is such an opportunity for smaller reform, it could evaporate next year if Republicans take control of the House or the Senate or both.

Undocumented migrants pay the price for failure

Parole was a big part of the Democrats’ plan. It does not give legal status to undocumented migrants, but it is a temporary protection against expulsion which, together with a work permit, gives undocumented migrants the assurance that they can continue to live. and to work in the United States for a fixed period. The Democrats’ inability to include parole and work permit provisions in the Build Back Better Act therefore leaves undocumented migrants in limbo.

For families with mixed immigration status, this could mean that U.S. citizen children will have to live with the risk of their parents being deported. Undocumented workers may not come forward to exercise their labor rights for fear of consequences for immigration.

Recipients of other types of temporary legal status – including the Obama-era Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status – will have no assurance that they can stay. in the United States beyond 18 months to two years.

And as is the case now, undocumented immigrants who have an immediate U.S. citizen family member will not be able to get a green card. To apply for a green card, an immigrant must be legally admitted to the United States or released on parole in the country. Without parole, they cannot meet this prerequisite.

These people could wait a little longer for the Democrats to provide them with some sort of solution to their current limbo. And there is little hope for help from Republican lawmakers. Democrats have tried to go it alone on immigration, in part because there is simply no appetite for a bipartisan compromise. Republicans have insisted on pairing border security measures that many Democrats oppose with any kind of relief for undocumented migrants.

And given the upcoming terms, Republicans might not be at all interested in working with Democrats on immigration reform, especially since they have sought to use immigration as an electoral weapon against the Biden administration and the Democratic Party.

“I don’t think there is any illusion that we will come back to this next year with something bigger,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice. “This is probably our last shot.”

Democrats have limited options to move forward on immigration

Senate Democrats have so far rejected the idea of ​​defeating the parliamentarian, but activists and progressives may be exerting increasing pressure to do so, especially after her latest ruling.

“I think there will be a lot of groups that say, ‘Come on, Democrats. You have to use your majority to achieve this. His advisory opinion is just that, ”said Sharry.

The parliamentarian’s decision is a technically non-binding opinion that Democrats could override. But many were unwilling to do so, in part because it could set a precedent in which Republicans could bypass parliamentarian to advance their own political goals in the future.

But Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), one of the main supporters of immigration reform, has indicated he would be willing to ignore the parliamentarian’s decision.

“I would vote for it,” he recently told the LA Times. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Democrats are still planning to present MacDonough with additional immigration proposals, and will likely do so early next year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer originally hoped to pass the Build Back Better Act before Christmas, but that plan derailed amid spending concerns raised by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) . Democrats now hope to pass the law in early 2022.

“It’s not like she said you couldn’t do immigration at all, which she could have said the first two times Democrats spoke to her. So I think there is definitely an opportunity to work with her and see what she thinks would meet the requirements, ”said Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub advocacy group who worked with Democrats on their plans. proposals for the parliamentarian.

There are other potential immigration provisions that were included in the House version of the bill. This includes a provision that would recover millions of unused green cards since 1992. Under current law, any assigned green cards not issued at the end of the year become unavailable for the following year. In 2021, the United States did not issue 80,000 green cards due to processing delays, and these cards are now lost.

Another provision would allow people who have been waiting for a green card to be issued for at least two years to pay additional fees to circumvent certain annual and country limitations and become permanent residents years, if not decades, earlier than they are. would not have done otherwise. And that would preserve the green cards for diversity visa winners from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States who were barred from entering the country due to the Trump-era travel bans and the United States. pandemic.

Beyond these provisions, there will likely be no more movement on immigration for the foreseeable future in Congress. And the question remains open whether one or the other of the alternatives can be accepted by the parliamentarian.

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