Immigration and Hispanic-rights activists lashed out at Democratic leaders Tuesday for lacking “courage” as chances dimmed for including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in President Biden’s massive social spending budget bill.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are coalescing around a less expansive plan to create a DACA-like deportation amnesty that would grant tentative legal status but fall short of the green cards and potential citizenship, believing that’s the most they can do within the rules of the budget process.
But activists warned that a year after delivering Democrats the White House and Congress, immigration-minded voters will not be pleased if they don’t see citizenship in the $1.75 trillion budget package.
“It is not pie-in-the-sky, but the bare minimum of how Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should deliver for their base,” said Patrice Lawrence executive director of the UndocuBlack Network. “A failure to display boldness in this area is a failure overall.”
She and other activists held a virtual press conference to try to stiffen spines of Democrats who say the decisions are now largely out of their hands.
Sen. Richard Durbin, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is immersed in the immigration negotiations, told reporters he will be presenting a new option for legalization to the Senate‘s parliamentarian this week.
The parliamentarian’s office is charged with ruling on what policies can be included in a budget bill. Democrats want to shoehorn immigration into the budget to avoid a GOP-led filibuster.
But the parliamentarian has already rejected two previous proposals that would have included a direct pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.
The new “Plan C” would instead grant illegal immigrants what’s known as “parole in place,” offering them a limited-term legal status and work permits but no clear pathway to citizenship.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers who had demanded full citizenship rights are now signaling they’ll take whatever they can get.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said they’re waiting to see what the parliamentarian will accept.
“I’m an immigrant myself. I’m one of only 14 naturalized citizens [in Congress]. I’ve worked on immigration for 20 years. We are going to push for the most that we can get, that can be in this bill,” she told reporters Monday.
On Tuesday, she said immigration was one of the issues still being hashed out in writing the final bill.
The Senate is split 50-50 and Republicans are united in opposition to the budget bill, which means a single Democratic senator unwilling to go along with an amnesty would sink the plan.
Bob Worsley, a co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition, acknowledged that they’re not certain all 50 Democratic senators are ready to vote for a bill that includes immigration provisions.
He said Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who is more moderate than most Senate Democrats, is seen as a holdout. He said there may be a couple of other senators who are reluctant, too.
“The reality is we need Joe Manchin in the Senate. And that’s not in the bag,” he said.
Even as they grapple with centrists, Democratic leaders also have to worry about their left flank in the House.
Rep. Lou Correa, California Democrat, joined activists’ press conference Tuesday and said he and two other House Democrats are prepared to vote against legislation that doesn’t include a specific chance at citizenship.
“We need reform, we need green cards, we need justice,” he said.
Democrats hold a 220-212 advantage in the House, meaning if four Democrats joined all Republicans to vote against the legislation, it would fail.
Mr. Correa also bristled against labeling legalization an amnesty, saying that implies people “did something wrong” and need to be forgiven.
“We have earned the right to citizenship,” he said, pointing to illegal immigrants who continued to work jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Activists praised Mr. Correa for his stance but said more Latino lawmakers need to join him. One activist said she wants to see “more courage” out of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
House Democrats’ current bill includes language that would update a registration date in current law for adjusting to legal status. The effect would be to open a window for millions of people to get on a pathway to citizenship.
But the Senate parliamentarian has already rejected that option as too broad to fit into the budget.
Activists on Tuesday renewed calls for Democrats to disregard the parliamentarian’s ruling and plow forward anyway. They envision Ms. Harris, who as vice president can preside over the Senate, taking the gavel and issuing a ruling that registration does comport with Senate budget rules.
“We absolutely cannot simply allow someone who is not elected to the Senate to dictate the future of our country,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
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