As the U.S. faces a crisis at its southern border, Democrats are pushing to include sweeping immigration changes in their mammoth spending bill, including a form of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The Build Back Better Act, a $1.75 trillion social spending package backed by President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress, tackles a wide range of issues — from taxes, to health care, to the environment.
Buried deep in the text, however, are a series of provisions which, if signed into law, would amount to a windfall for illegal immigrants. Many of these provisions have been overlooked but would have significant effects on America's immigration system — and the American taxpayer.
Initially, Democrats sought to include an overt pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. This plan failed, however, due to the requirements of a budgetary process known as reconciliation.
Because Republicans are united in opposition to the Build Back Better Act, Democrats have been unable to garner the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to overcome the legislative filibuster. So, Democrats decided to use reconciliation, which is supposed to expedite the legislative process by requiring only a simple majority of votes, to try to push through the bill.
But there's a catch: Reconciliation bills can only contain measures with a direct budgetary impact as determined by the Senate's parliamentarian, who functions essentially as a referee of what meets this threshold.
The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled in mid-September that the Build Back Better Act couldn't be used to provide illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. The amnesty measure, MacDonough wrote, "is by any standard a broad, new immigration policy" whose budgetary effect is "merely incidental" to the overall policy impact, which would profoundly change the lives of millions of immigrants.
Disappointed but still seeking amnesty for millions, Democrats then tried a Plan B: granting legal status to illegal immigrants present in the U.S. before 2010. This plan involved changing the date of the registry section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which grants permanent residence to individuals who entered the country before 1972.
Once again, the parliamentarian said the Democrats' approach was a non-starter, rejecting it in late September — although the House version of the bill still included Plan B weeks after the ruling.
Hoping a third try's the charm, House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled their Plan C, relying on a process known as parole to protect illegal immigrants from deportation and grant them the ability to obtain a work permit.
Parole would waive immigration requirements for those who have been living in the U.S. before 2011, and beneficiaries could then apply for a five-year extension.
In other words, those present in the country illegally prior to Jan. 1, 2011, could be given up to 10 years of work authorization. According to the Center for American Progress, this would benefit more than 7 million illegal immigrants.
"It's our best option for getting past the parliamentarian," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Still, progressive lawmakers in the House have urged the Democratic Party to ignore the parliamentarian and push for permanent amnesty. Even Senate Democrats are calling on their colleagues in both chambers to stay aggressive — beyond just the amnesty issue.
Indeed, the Democrats' spending bill includes a host of other measures that would benefit illegal immigrants.
"Through ‘Build Back Better,' Democrats are trying to give some form of amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, make illegal alien students eligible for subsidized in-state tuition, and make illegal alien children eligible for tax credits that used to be limited to American children," said Robert Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy for the Center for Immigration Studies.
As Law explained, current law prohibits undocumented students from being granted in-state tuition unless U.S. citizens are offered the same rate regardless of where they're from. But the Build Back Better Act would strike this provision, meaning an illegal immigrant in Virginia would pay less to attend the University of Virginia than a U.S. citizen from Maryland. The point is to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants without restrictions.
Democrats also want to eliminate the need for a social security number to demonstrate eligibility for child tax credits — a move that, if passed, would provide roughly a million undocumented children with such support.
It remains to be seen whether the parliamentarian will allow such measures and whether Democrats will water down their language in future negotiations. But Republicans are urging Democratic leadership to remove these policies, arguing they incentivize further illegal immigration.
The spending bill additionally includes provisions to allow the government to tap unused visas from past fiscal years to admit more people into the country. While this would primarily affect legal immigration, it wouldn't exclude illegal immigrants, some of whom would be eligible for green cards if they were allowed to stay through parole.
Other visa-related provisions effectively eliminate restrictions on the ability of major corporations to bring in foreign workers. Many of these employers, such as Google and Facebook, already exploit legal loopholes to allow temporary workers here on H-1B visas to remain in the U.S. permanently. Critics argue that such actions hurt American workers — and that the reconciliation bill would make things worse.
"The bill rewards Big Tech and other industries that discriminate against American workers by using legislative gimmicks to significantly increase legal immigration," Law told Just the News.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) raised the same issue in a recent letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"These provisions will allow Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and numerous other technology companies across America to employ a functionally limitless supply of cheap foreign labor in place of willing, able and qualified [American] workers," Hagerty wrote.
Proponents of the changes, however, say that leveraging the talent of high-skilled immigrants who strengthen the U.S. economy will ensure America remains competitive on the global stage, especially as tensions remain high with China. They also say the bill's visa provisions would ease backlogs, noting many people who come to the U.S. legally on work visas face year-long wait times to obtain permanent residence.
The Democrats' push to grant amnesty and benefits to illegal immigrants comes amid a historic surge in illegal border crossings under the Biden administration.
Over all 12 months of 2020, during which President Donald Trump was in office, there were about 550,000 illegal migrants encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Over the first nine and a half months of Biden's presidency, there have been over 1.5 million.
The Build Back Better Act doesn't include measures to enhance border security.