Senate Democrats’ new budget proposal carves out $107 billion to impose an amnesty for “millions” of illegal immigrants and invest in “smart and effective border security.”
The details of those measures remain to be written by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but they are an ambitious marker that ignites the fifth major immigration debate this century.
Previous attempts fell victim to divisions within the ranks of immigrant-rights advocates or party differences. But by tapping the budget process, Democrats envision passing the bill without needing bipartisan support, overcoming that second hurdle.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced the immigration plans as part of the broad budget package, which included plans for universal preschool, free community college, a major program to combat global warming, and massive new spending on housing, government offices and government-sponsored research and development.
“At its core, this legislation is about restoring the middle class in the 21st Century and giving more Americans the opportunity to get there,” Mr. Schumer said in a letter to colleagues.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the immigration proposal amounted to a “sweeping amnesty when the southern border is already in crisis.”
Immigration activists, though, were heaping pressure on both parties to finally deliver the legalization program advocates have long awaited.
Among those voices was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican and brother and son of presidents.
Mr. Bush signed on to a letter with fellow Republicans under the auspices of the American Business Immigration Coalition, saying they want to see citizenship rights granted to millions of illegal immigrant farm workers, those here under deportation protections, and “essential workers.”
The Republicans even backed Democrats going it alone, without GOP support.
“We prefer bipartisanship but if reconciliation is moving forward then we urge you to include immigration solutions. Reconciliation may be the last chance to do what the American people want, and what our economy needs, for months, and perhaps years to come,” the corporate leaders said.
The budget is a planning document, and if it clears the Senate, various committees go about writing the actual legislative language to carry out those goals.
On immigration, Mr. Schumer said the bill instructs the Judiciary Committee to grant “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants” and to make “investments in smart and effective border security measures.”
He said nothing about stiffening interior enforcement, such as use of E-Verify to allow businesses to weed out illegal immigrant workers, which had been an element of previous immigration compromises.
A 2006 attempt at a broad amnesty cleared the Senate but never saw action in the House. A year later, a bill failed to clear the Senate.
In 2013, another bill again cleared the Senate but the House didn’t take it up.
And during the Trump administration, the president proposed a deal to legalize some illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in exchange for border wall money, but Democrats rejected that proposal as too high a price to pay.