Protesters made their way down Speer Boulevard to Auraria Parkway on Sept. 25, 2021, demanding that Congress create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Courtesy of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition)
The Senate parliamentarian ruled for the second time on Sept. 29 that Democrats could not include a pathway to legal immigration status for 8 million undocumented people in their budget reconciliation bill.
While the ruling is nonbinding, it’s unclear whether Senate Democrats would agree to defy the parliamentarian, a nonpartisan official who determines how U.S. Senate rules and precedent should be applied to lawmaking. Neither of Colorado’s U.S. senators have said they’d support such a strategy, though they told Newsline they’d keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.
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Under Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s ruling, Senate lawmakers would need 60 votes to pass immigration reform rather than the simple majority required to pass budget reconciliation — a process reserved for matters that affect spending, revenues, the deficit or the debt limit. It would be nearly impossible to get 60 votes as most Republicans oppose a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, and the Senate is evenly split between the parties.
The budget reconciliation package, which contains funding to expand social initiatives such as community college aid and universal preschool, has hit an impasse in the Senate as moderate Democrats push back against the $3.5 trillion price tag. Democrats are a ways from resolving intra-party conflicts over the legislation’s cost, let alone agreeing on including comprehensive immigration reform after MacDonough’s ruling called it a “weighty policy change” that shouldn’t be included in the budget reconciliation package.
When asked when and how they would support moving forward on immigration reform following the parliamentarian’s ruling, neither of Colorado’s Democratic U.S. senators specified a particular timeline or strategy. However, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper both voiced support for so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as children without legal documentation and have temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
“Senator Bennet was disappointed in the Parliamentarian’s ruling, and he remains committed to getting immigration reform over the finish line,” a spokesperson for Bennet said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “He believes we need to bring certainty to the millions of DREAMers, (Temporary Protected Status) holders, and hard-working farm workers and essential workers who have sustained our country during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
People granted temporary protected status are allowed to live and work in the U.S. for a limited time. Currently, hundreds of thousands of people from countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras are among those eligible for TPS, but they could lose that status and be forced to leave the U.S. without action from Congress that would allow them to apply for permanent legal residency and American citizenship.
“Senator Hickenlooper believes the parliamentarian’s rulings only underscore why the Senate must tackle comprehensive immigration reform,” a spokesperson for Hickenlooper said in a Wednesday email. “It’s the only way to give DREAMers, TPS recipients, and other undocumented immigrants the certainty they deserve while addressing our broken system once and for all.”
In a Wednesday letter, a group of 92 legal scholars called on Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic leaders in the Senate to essentially disregard the parliamentarian’s ruling. Rather than overriding MacDonough, Harris should issue her own ruling contrary to MacDonough’s advice, the scholars said, and keep immigration reform in the budget reconciliation package.
Three progressive lawmakers penned an opinion piece in The Hill on Friday urging support for the scholars’ proposal. The three lawmakers — Democratic U.S. Reps. Adriano Espaillat of New York, Chuy García of Illinois and Lou Correa of California — vowed to vote down any deal that did not contain comprehensive immigration reform.
States Newsroom reporter Ariana Figueroa contributed to this story.
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