Posted on October 26, 2021

Democrats Quietly Scramble to Include Immigration Provision in Social Spending Bill

Sean Sullivan and Marianna Sotomayor, Washington Post, October 26, 2021

Democrats are scrambling intensely behind the scenes to address immigration in the framework they are crafting to expand the nation’s social safety net, according to people with knowledge of the situation, even as President Biden and other party leaders have said little publicly about their strategy in recent weeks.

The most pressing question confronting Democrats is what to do about millions of undocumented immigrants seeking a path to legalization. One option under discussion is a plan to provide protected status that stops short of a path to citizenship. Another, which is seen by some of the people with knowledge of the situation as something of a placeholder, is to include a proposal that would enable immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2010 to apply for a green card.


While the president sent a proposal to Capitol Hill at the start of his tenure to open a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and has voiced support for using the social spending bill to achieve that, he has yet to explain a clear track for accomplishing that objective, angering many activists who have already started accusing him of falling short of his campaign promises.

On Monday, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats had made some progress on a proposal to give undocumented immigrants a protected status that would enable them to work legally, pay taxes and live without fear of deportation. He said the Congressional Budget Office gave the plan a preliminary score.

An alternate idea that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her advisers have told Democratic members and aides in recent days to keep pursuing, according to people with knowledge of the situation, is the one that would enable immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2010 to apply for a green card. Pelosi’s office declined to comment on Monday on internal deliberations.

Several people with knowledge of the situation said Democrats are pursuing this track in case they feel they need to reach an agreement on the larger social spending plan before the Senate parliamentarian rules on the plan Durbin touted. Democrats are under extra pressure to strike a deal since it would also break a logjam on a related infrastructure bill and enable a vote on that measure as soon as this week.

The provision, a fallback known as the “Registry” proposal — which could later be replaced by the idea Durbin touted, should that win approval from the parliamentarian, according to some of the people with knowledge of the situation — would apply to those with provisional immigration status, as well as undocumented immigrants, giving them a track to legalization that activists have demanded for years.


Current law allows an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1972, to apply for legal status. The new strategy would update the date to clear the way for millions of longtime undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency.

But the plan faces a major roadblock: The Senate parliamentarian told Democrats that changing the registry date cannot be included under the budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post on Sept. 29. Democrats are using reconciliation to bypass Republican opposition and pass their bill with a simple majority.

The decision marked the second time that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough had rejected Democrats’ efforts to include permanent legal residency in the bill, judging that its impact would extend well beyond its budgetary implications. {snip}

There is division among Democrats on whether the parliamentarian’s word is final, with some pushing to override her rule. {snip}