Senate Democrats are trying to convince the Senate parliamentarian—a nonpartisan figure who arbitrates disagreements over Senate rules—to allow them to include about eight million green cards into the $3.5 trillion budget resolution.
The blessing of the current parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, will be necessary because of the peculiar track Democrats are using to pass the budget.
Specifically, they are using the reconciliation process, a parliamentary procedure added to the Senate’s rule in the early 1970s. The process allows some types of budget bills to pass through the deliberative upper chamber with only a simple majority, bypassing filibuster by opponents altogether. Ultimately, what is allowed under this process is up to MacDonough, whose job it is to protect the rights of both parties.
“How many years have we all complained that the immigration system in America is broken and needs to be fixed?” he asked, adding that the last comprehensive immigration reform to come from Congress was passed 35 years ago and signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Durbin then presaged the challenge that Democrats will have in convincing the parliamentarian. He said, “this immigration package does have a cost associated with it.”
Under the standing rules of the reconciliation process, provisions in reconciliation bills must have an impact on the federal government’s spending and revenues that is more than “merely incidental.” Durbin also notes that staffers from relevant committees have already met with the parliamentarian, hoping to convince MacDonough that the immigration provision is legally allowed under the reconciliation process’s rules.
“If more and more people become legal permanent residents, they qualify for some government programs,” Durbin conceded. “But,” he contended, “economists agree that for every dollar paid out through a government program to a legal permanent resident, ten dollars is returned to the economy.”
As to whether MacDonough will be likely to support the measure, Durbin admitted that he was uncertain, noting that the decision is “entirely within her hands at this point.”
Democrats must have the full support of the parliamentarian, who can unilaterally shoot down the measure on her own authority.
Parliamentarian Has Strict Track Record on Budget Reconciliation
In that capacity, MacDonough has not been shy to kill priorities by both parties that she considered to be outside the scope of reconciliation.
For example, in 2017 Republicans tried to add a provision to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—passed through the reconciliation process—that would have repealed restrictions on churches, charitable foundations, and universities that forbade such nonprofits from becoming politically involved or endorsing candidates.
After Democrats took back the majority, MacDonough also put restrictions on what they were permitted to do as well. In February, the parliamentarian ruled against including a $15 minimum wage in a CCP virus (Chinese Communist Party virus) relief package proposed by President Joe Biden.
In both cases, the majority party tried to convince MacDonough that the provisions were budget-related to little avail. Now, Democrats are trying to get the parliamentarian’s blessing for a similarly expansive provision: one that would allow up to eight million illegal aliens to receive green cards, putting them on a path to citizenship.
Included under this provision would be so-called Dreamers—a group of people who entered the United States illegally as children and were granted amnesty under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a controversial executive order signed by President Barack Obama—agricultural laborers, and other essential workers, among others.
This target of a path to citizenship for eight million illegal aliens falls short of the president’s more ambitious targets on the campaign trail.
Then-candidate Biden was asked during an October presidential debate about the Obama Administration’s track record. On the 2008 and 2012 campaign trails, comprehensive immigration reform was a key Obama-Biden priority, but the administration failed to bring these promised changes about.
Biden explained that he and former President Obama “made a mistake … we took too long to get it right.”
Biden then made his ambitious promise, saying that within his first 100 days he would “send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.” He continued “those so-called Dreamers … [are] going to be immediately certified again to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship.”
While one of Biden’s main priorities on the campaign trail—a path to citizenship for and continued protection of Dreamers—would be included in the provision if accepted by the parliamentarian, it would still fall far short of this 11 million amnesty goal.
Amnesty Effort ‘Unprecedented and Dangerous’: FAIR
Preston Huennekens, the Government Relations Manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), criticized this most recent amnesty effort.
FAIR is a nonpartisan organization that describes its mission as “seeking out solutions that help reduce the negative impact of uncontrolled immigration on the nation’s security, economy, workforce, education, healthcare, and environment.”
Huennekens began, “The effort by House and Senate Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to amnesty millions of illegal aliens is unprecedented and dangerous.”
He then listed concerns that he and the organizations have about the move. First, he said that “Granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens will exacerbate our raging border crisis and deeply harm our nation for decades.”
Currently, the southern border is experiencing unprecedented levels of immigration. Republicans have blamed this on Biden’s relaxed attitude towards the border. In a letter (pdf) to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the Biden Administration of “refus[ing] to fulfill their responsibility to enforce immigration laws enacted by Congress.”
Huennekens also warned that allowing the provision in the reconciliation bill “would set a terrible precedent and an opportunity for the party in power to get around the traditional legislative process to enact unpopular special interest priorities unrelated to spending or revenue.”
“This move,” he said, “is clearly ‘merely incidental’ to the goals of the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package,” thus falling outside the purview of the reconciliation process. Rather, “it is drafted with the single goal of amnestying illegal aliens.”
Huennekens concluded: “This has nothing to do with spending or the Federal budget. It is a naked attempt by Democrats to pass legislation that is politically and practically impossible outside of the budget reconciliation process.”