The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that Democrats can’t stick a legalization program for illegal immigrants into President Biden’s budget bill, putting the party in a political bind as it tries to move forward.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Democrats’ lead immigration negotiator, said the parliamentarian found the plan extended “just too many rights” to illegal immigrants to be able to pass muster under the rules of the budget.
He pronounced himself “disappointed.”
The option under consideration was Democrats’ “Plan C.”
Two previous plans to offer a firm pathway to U.S. citizenship to illegal immigrants had already been shot down by the parliamentarian, who said citizenship was a major policy debate that didn’t fit inside the budget, which is supposed to be focused on fiscal matters.
Democrats came back with a plan that offered a deportation amnesty but no lasting permanent legal status, hoping that would avoid the big policy questions, but the parliamentarian said it was too similar, Mr. Durbin said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the lead Republican on immigration policy, said Democrats should take the hint and stop trying to force major immigration changes into a bill that has no bipartisan support.
“Passing these measures on a party-line vote would set a terrible precedent and further erode the valuable role of the Senate as a legislative body that requires debate, consultation, and compromise in order to enact major policy proposals into law,” the Iowa Republican said.
The ruling is a profound blow to immigrant-rights activists, who had begged Democrats to come up with some way to grant a legal foothold in the country to 8 million or so illegal immigrants.
Many of those groups now will demand that Democrats ignore the parliamentarian and stick the immigration provisions in the bill, using the power of the gavel to rule that the policy does fit budget rules.
“We have gone from the possibility of making permanent legalization and citizenship available to about 8 million Dreamers, TPS holders, and essential workers including farmworkers, to nothing. The parliamentarian’s decisions on three separate proposals were wrong and the Senate should not let that stand,” said Mike Fernandez, co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
Key Democratic senators have said they won’t go along with plans to circumvent the parliamentarian. But other Democrats, particularly in the House, have said they won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t include immigration protections.
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That leaves Democratic leaders with another headache related to the $1.75 trillion budget bill, which covers everything from climate change spending to tax credits and child care.
Those party leaders are also reaping the results of years of promises of action, without a clear path to make good on them. Now immigration groups say it’s time for Democrats to repay decades of political loyalty by immigration-rights voters.
“Immigrant Americans have proven how essential we are to the nation during this global pandemic, and now it’s time for our Democratic leadership to live up to their promises and prove that we are more than pawns to be bargained with by politicians,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
In a joint statement Thursday evening Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Mr. Durbin and several Latino Democratic senators signaled a tough line, saying they will “pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship” in the bill.
“The American people understand that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral and economic imperative, and we stand with the millions of immigrant families across the country who deserve better and for whom we will not stop fighting,” the senators said.
While politically tricky to get through Congress, a path to citizenship is popular with the public.
A Washington Times poll taken in late November and early December found strong support for citizenship rights for most long-term illegal immigrants who have kept a relatively clean criminal record. The survey found 59% in support and 31% opposed.