Posted on November 17, 2021

Democrats Are Set to Leave Immigrants in the Lurch Again

Nicole Narea, Vox, November 15, 2021

The House may soon vote on Democrats’ $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation bill, with provisions to shield undocumented immigrants living in the US from deportation and relieve long visa backlogs.

But like many of the immigration proposals from the last few decades, these new, critical immigration fixes appear unlikely to actually become law. {snip}


As part of their social and climate spending package, known as the Build Back Better Act (BBB), Democrats initially sought to create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the US. That plan was rejected by the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who is tasked with determining what can and cannot be passed via budget reconciliation.

Reconciliation allows bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority — which Democrats have by one vote — but for a provision to be included in a reconciliation package, it must have a “more than incidental” impact on the budget. A pathway to citizenship, MacDonough said, would be a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.” Democrats then proposed giving people who entered the US illegally prior to 2010 a pathway to green cards. MacDonough also nixed this plan.

This has led to Democrats’ plan C. Under the latest draft of the bill, undocumented immigrants would be given temporary protection from deportation through what is called “parole” for a period of five years. Those who arrived in the US prior to 2011 — numbering an estimated 7 million — could apply for five-year, renewable employment authorization.

The bill would also recover millions of green cards that went unused in the years since 1992. Under current law, any allotted green cards not issued by the end of the year become unavailable for the following year. In 2021, the US failed to issue some 80,000 green cards due to processing delays, and those cards have now gone to waste.

The bill also allows some people who have been waiting to be issued a green card for at least two years to pay additional fees to bypass certain annual and per-country limitations and become permanent residents years, if not decades, sooner than they would have otherwise. And the bill preserves green cards for Diversity Visa winners from countries with low levels of immigration to the US who were prevented from entering the country on account of Trump-era travel bans and the pandemic.


In the House, Reps. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Adriano Espaillat, and Lou Correa have pushed for immigration reforms to be included in the reconciliation package. But even if they are ultimately successful, the provisions face two significant obstacles in the Senate: key moderates and the parliamentarian.

Moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced last week that she supported the current provisions, but there is no word yet from Sen. Joe Manchin, who has expressed skepticism about addressing immigration in the bill. As Senate Democrats need every vote in their caucus, should Manchin refuse to back the provisions, they’d be effectively dead.

MacDonough has also yet to weigh in on the latest plan. But given that she twice rejected Democrats’ previous immigration proposals, she may do so again. Explaining why she rejected Democrats’ path to citizenship proposal in September, MacDonough wrote that the impact of the legislation far outweighed its budgetary consequences, making it inappropriate to include in a reconciliation bill.


“No one can be categorically sure about what she’s going to do. But there’s enough in her opinion to suggest that she will think this was too big a reach in reconciliation,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Despite calls to overrule — or even fire — the parliamentarian, Democrats have made it clear they plan to abide by her ruling. {snip}


These barriers mean immigration reform seems to be proving elusive once again. Experts say that’s because immigration has shifted from a matter of policy to a matter of identity, and that as this shift was happening, the way Congress functions changed drastically.


And there used to be immigration proponents — and skeptics — in both parties. For instance, labor unions used to advocate for restrictionist immigration policies, though that shifted in the 2000s. Business-minded Republicans recognized the economic benefits of immigration. Now, the debate is more tied up in identity. It has also grown in electoral importance, with voters ranking it the third most important issue facing the country after the coronavirus and the economy in a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll earlier this year.

“Immigration is all about culture and race. It is about people’s perception of how immigration is changing our country,” Chishti said. {snip}