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NEW YORK – Now that passing immigration reform measures in the budget reconciliation package may be off the table, immigration advocates fear a divided Congress won’t stray from party lines to pass immigration reform through traditional means.
Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan interpreter of Senate rules, ruled on Sept. 19 that provisions providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people in the U.S. weren’t in line with Senate rules for a budget reconciliation package.
The decision was a huge blow for Democrats. With MacDonough’s approval they would’ve been able to include the measures in their $3.5 trillion budget proposal that can be passed by a simple majority through the reconciliation process, which Democrats have with a 50-50 split Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.
The catch with reconciliation is that all of the measures included in the bill must directly relate to the federal budget, which she ruled the immigration measures did not. Immigration advocates were both disheartened, and disappointed by the decision.
“We were hopeful, those of us looking on from the outside, that they would find a way within their rules to be able to move forward with this very urgent reform and once again our hopes have been dashed,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso told Crux.
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe told Crux in a statement that he was “hoping the urgency and logic of this would have been persuasive” in MacDonough’s decision.
If approved, the measures would have created a pathway to citizenship for an estimated eight million undocumented people including Dreamers who arrived in the United States as minors, Temporary Protected Status recipients, Deferred Enforcement Departure beneficiaries and agricultural and other essential workers.
Democrats have said they will offer alternative approaches to MacDonough with hopes of creating a pathway to citizenship for at least some migrants. Father Bryan Hehir, emeritus Parker Gilbert Montomgery Professor of Religion and Public Life at Harvard University, however, questions if that’s the best approach.
Hehir, who is the secretary for health and social services with the Archdiocese of Boston, told Crux that immigration reform is “multidimensional and urgent,” and given that urgency he doesn’t know if it’s wise to spend a lot of time pursuing the Senate parliamentarian.
Without passing the measures in the budget package through reconciliation, a traditional immigration package would take 60 votes to pass, which is unlikely to happen with the current partisan nature of Congress. As Hehir puts it: “The lines are drawn in a way that people take absolutist positions and then just stare at each other.”
Anthony Granado, Catholic Charities USA vice president of governmental relations, told Crux another challenge of getting immigration reform passed is the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, noting that both parties will keep in mind how it will impact the chances of their members getting elected. For that reason, he said working to get something in the budget reconciliation package is important, otherwise he’s concerned the quest for immigration reform will be “set back a ways.”
Granado said the situation in Del Rio as the latest example that comprehensive immigration reform – that creates pathways to legalization for those already settled in the country and restores the asylum process at the U.S.-Mexico border – is needed.
There are currently over 10,000 migrants – predominantly Haitians – stationed underneath the Del Rio International Bridge after crossing into the country from Mexico through the Rio Grande River. The influx has overwhelmed the immigration system in the border city.
“You just have to turn on a media broadcast right now to see what’s going on at our border in Del Rio, Texas, to know that deep down we have to admit that our immigration system is broken in this country,” Granado said. “We have the ability to craft reasonable policy that lifts up human dignity, and also respects the territorial integrity of our country. We just need the political will to do so. The status quo is not sustainable.”
There were high hopes that the Biden administration would deliver immigration reform when it took over at the beginning of the year. Dylan Corbett, the executive director of Hope Border Institute, said with a lack of change and retention of hardline border policies “this has been a very disappointing year.”
For the immigrants already in the U.S. that the budget reconciliation package would’ve provided a pathway to citizenship, he added that “there has to be a sense of social responsibility and solidarity” with the undocumented people, many of whom were and still are essential workers through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seitz says the the lack of action from elected officials is in some ways willful.
“I’ve been disappointed for many years now that our elected leaders are not willing or able to find a way to give some kind of recognition to people who have been living among us, working among us, raising their children among us, and paying taxes to us in many cases for 20 years or more,” Seitz said. “We haven’t been able to decide what we want to do about them, and our lack of decision is a kind of decision. It means that we’re willing to leave them in the shadows to treat them as second-class citizens, not to give them the rights that human beings ought to receive.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg