Posted on September 20, 2021

Senate Parliamentarian Nixes Democrats’ Immigration Plan

Jordain Carney, The Hill, September 19, 2021

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on Sunday ruled against Democrats’ plan to provide 8 million greencards as part of their $3.5 trillion spending bill, dealing a significant blow to Democrats’ immigration reform chances.

MacDonough’s guidance, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, all but closes the door to Democrats using the spending bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants.

MacDonough, in her guidance, warned that the Democratic plan doesn’t meet the strict rules on what can be in the spending bill, calling the plan “by any standard a broad, new immigration policy.”

“The policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation,” she wrote in the ruling obtained by The Hill, referring to the budget process Democrats are using to avoid the Senate filibuster.

Democrats pitched MacDonough earlier this month on their plan to use the $3.5 trillion spending bill to provide 8 million green cards for four groups of immigrants: “Dreamers,” temporary protected status (TPS) holders, agricultural workers and essential workers. Getting legal permanent resident status allows an individual to eventually apply for citizenship if they can meet other qualifications.

But because Democrats are using reconciliation to pass the spending bill without GOP support, there are strict requirements for what can be included. One of the requirements is that any provision in the bill has to impact the federal government’s spending or revenues and that the impact can’t be “merely incidental” to nonbudgetary intentions.


Democratic leaders had pledged that if the Senate referee initially rejected their efforts, they could keep trying to sway her until the $3.5 trillion spending bill was on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday night said Democrats would take an alternative proposal to MacDonough.


The spending bill is Democrats’ best shot at getting immigration reform to President Biden‘s desk. Though the House previously passed two smaller bills, Senate Democrats have been unable to come up with a plan that could get the 10 GOP votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate. {snip}


If Democrats can’t sway MacDonough, they’ll need to either leave the immigration language out of the spending bill or muster the 60 votes needed to keep it in. With Republicans opposed to using the spending package to pass immigration reform, that’s unlikely.

Democrats are also likely to face fresh calls to nix the legislative filibuster, which would let them pass immigration reform and other priorities with a simple majority outside reconciliation, as well as either fire MacDonough or formally overrule her on the floor a move that would take total unity from Democrats and Vice President Harris presiding.