Democrats’ overheated rhetoric on immigration is catching up with them, as they now face intense pressure from immigrant-rights advocates who say the party must deliver on a broad amnesty program even if it means blowing up a core Senate tradition.
The calls came after the Senate’s parliamentarian late last week ruled that Democrats’ latest plan to grant legal status to illegal immigrants violated budget rules, and can’t be included in President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending bill. It was the third immigration plan the parliamentarian has rejected.
Activists said they’ve run out of patience and demanded Senate Democrats disregard the adverse rulings and force immigration into the social spending bill anyway.
“Immigrants mobilized to elect Democrats — who control the Senate, House of Representatives and the White House,” said Natalia Aristizabal, Campaign Director for Immigrant Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy Action. “We expect Democrats to meet this historic moment by using every tool at their disposal to deliver on their promise of a pathway to citizenship.”
It’s not clear how much it matters at this point. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, announced Sunday he won’t support the current framework of the budget, effectively dooming it and leaving party leaders scrambling.
No budget means no vehicle to attach the immigration provisions.
That would tie Democrats in an impossible political knot, after having promised immigration groups this would be the year they finally saw action.
Immigration groups are used to those kinds of promises being broken. President Obama made a similar Year One promise on immigration during his 2008 campaign, but instead tackled the economy.
President Biden and Democratic leaders made similar pledges for this year, and immigration groups said they’re determined to collect.
“Latinos helped deliver the Senate, House, and the White House to Democrats, who made campaign promises to deliver on immigration. Democrats need these same voters in 2022,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, before Mr. Manchin’s announcement. “How are we going to get Latino voters out if Democrats do not follow through on their promises?”
The plan the parliamentarian rejected would have granted DACA-like protections for about a decade to a wide swath of illegal immigrants. They would be protected from deportation and granted work permits, bringing some taxpayer benefits.
They would not have had an automatic path to citizenship, though some could have taken advantage of a convoluted avenue that involves international travel.
It was their third attempt at convincing the parliamentarian to approve a major immigration legalization — and had been dubbed “Plan C.” Plans A and B both involved a specific pathway to citizenship, and both were previously rejected as too broad to fit into the budget.
Now, Democratic leaders face few options, even if they can revive the budget next year.
One is to search for a “Plan D” to present to the parliamentarian and hope for a different ruling. Another is to give up, and bear the wrath of their party’s activists.
The third, and most dangerous, is to follow the activists’ demands and overrule the parliamentarian, creating a new precedent that major non-budget matters can be tackled as part of the budget. The budget is a crucial vehicle since it avoids the threat of a filibuster.
To overrule the parliamentarian, the plan would be to have Vice President Kamala Harris take the chair and rule that immigration does fit within the confines of the budget. That is not without precedent, but would break with longstanding tradition that senators follow the parliamentarian’s rulings.
Yet that is the path the immigrant-rights groups are demanding Democrats take.
“The parliamentarian is not the deciding vote or voice,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA. “Democratic leadership can disregard parliamentarian advice and offer solutions. Vice President Harris has the law and the power on her side to deliver on that promise.”
If Democrats do take that step, analysts say it would send the Senate on a path to erasing the filibuster power itself. It would set a precedent for forcing any policy into the budget by disregarding the parliamentarian in the future. Eventually, there would be no ground left untouched by the scope of the budget.
Given those dangers, some key Democrats have said they won’t accept a bill that disregards the parliamentarian’s ruling.
But other Democrats, particularly in the House, have said they won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t include immigration protections.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the lead Republican on immigration policy, said Democrats should take a hint from the parliamentarian 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.