Democrats plan to to slip immigration changes into $3.5T budget bill, pass without GOP votes

Key Congressional Democrats are attempting to work toward their immigration reform goals with a budget reconciliation bill that will need no Republican support to pass.

Published: July 16, 2021 4:26pm

Updated: July 16, 2021 10:30pm

Expected to be included in the Congressional Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill is language that will advance the party's goals for immigration reform. Working with the White House, a group of top Capitol Hill Democrats are workshopping placing a handful of immigration measures into the spending bill that will likely be passed via budget reconciliation, that is with no Republican support.

For years, efforts to reform the American immigration system have stalled as Democrats and Republicans fail to make any sort of meaningful bipartisan progress on the issue. Now, Democrats are opting to strategically move forward potentially without the need for bipartisan agreement.

As Democrats in Washington scramble to complete the full version of the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill ahead of an initial procedural vote next Wednesday, details of the massive spending plan meant to accompany the infrastructure legislation are nowhere near fleshed-out, including how they plan to insert immigration policy into a spending bill. Right now, Democrats are, according to Politico, employing a "trial-and-error" approach to the legislation.

Democrats are reportedly attempting to include pathways to citizenship for a number of illegal immigrant groups in the bill, including "dreamers," who came or were brought to the United States as minors, and farmworkers already living and working in the country. The Hispanic Caucus is also lobbying to include giving out green cards to "essential workers," including those who work on the frontlines of health professions during the pandemic, as part of the legislation.

It is not clear that the Democrats will be able to include all, or any, of these measures in the final framework of the bill, if they wish to pass it without Republican support. There will likely be a lively back-and-forth with the Senate parliamentarian (who happens to be a former immigration lawyer) regarding what immigration policy can, under the complex and sometimes obscure rules of the Senate, be included in the budget.

To qualify for Senate passage with a simple majority vote, which the $3.5 trillion package theoretically will, any given part of it must directly relate to federal revenue. It remains to be seen how Democrats will retrofit their immigration goals to meet the standards of the Senate rules in that regard.

In February, Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration were denied the opportunity by the Senate parliamentarian, to include a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in the American Rescue Plan. Senate Democrats leading the effort, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez (N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) have developed a new strategy this time: being nicer to the parliamentarian, who is ultimately an apolitical third party. In February, she was subjected to ruthless attacks across online platforms, with some angry progressives going so far as to tweet out her personal cell phone number.

Republicans are already voicing strong opposition to the Democrats' tenuous plan. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) cautioned, "Democrats are trying to sneak mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants through Congress under the cover of their budget scheme." Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton echoed the sentiment, arguing that the proposal will act "as a bigger magnet for more illegal immigration into this country."

Without much of a mandate in either chamber and upcoming midterm elections that could potentially be a difficult one for the party in power, D.C. Democrats are currently throwing everything they've got at the wall and seeing what sticks, in an effort to get some significant, Biden-approved legislation through before this Congress is up.

"We have had an every-which-way approach to immigration reform," said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), the leader of the Hispanic Caucus. This is currently our best effort."

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