WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, is tacitly considering using a quick budget maneuver to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants should bipartisan talks about providing a route to citizenship fall apart.
Mr Schumer has privately told members of the Hispanic Caucus of Congress over the past few weeks that he is “actively considering” the possibility of including a major overhaul of immigration laws in President Biden’s infrastructure plan and going through this process known as budget reconciliation Information from two people informed of his comments.
The move would allow measures to pass the evenly divided Senate by a simple majority of 51 votes to protect them from a filibuster and the 60-vote threshold for transitioning to one that would otherwise require at least 10 Republican votes .
The strategy is part of a backup plan that Mr Schumer has drawn up in the event that talks between 15 senators from both parties do not result in a compromise. As negotiations drag on with little consensus, proponents are increasingly concerned that Democrats may miss a rare opportunity to legalize large sections of the undocumented population while their party controls both the Chambers of Congress and the White House.
“Democrats have to act,” says Sergio Gonzales, the director of the immigration hubpushing for an immigrant agenda in Congress. “Now is the time. This year is the time. We must have citizenship this year.”
Mr Biden’s immigration plan would provide an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants avenue to citizenship and increase diversity visas and border security funding. However, given the long chances of achieving such sweeping changes, lawmakers are focused on cobbling together a package of smaller bills that will legalize some eight million or fewer undocumented immigrants.
These include House-passed laws granting legal status to those brought to the United States as children who are known to be dreamers. Immigrants who have been granted temporary protection status on humanitarian grounds; and nearly a million farm workers.
Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi last month endorsed the idea Using reconciliation to enforce an immigration measure, citing the “budgetary impact of immigration in our country”. Washington Senator Patty Murray, the No. 3 Democrat, advocated this approach last week.
However, the strategy carries risks and is by no means guaranteed to be successful.
Republicans involved in the talks warn that before Congress can crack down on undocumented immigrants, it must address the large influx of migrants across the southwestern border. In March, border officials encountered nearly 19,000 children at the border – the largest number in a single month – most of them fled poverty and violence in Central America, although the number is falling.
“Before we can do anything meaningful about immigration, we must address the current crisis on the border,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas, who was involved in the bipartisan talks. “I don’t think the public will tolerate us ignoring this crisis and it will only get worse if we don’t deal with it.”
Regarding the implementation of Mr Biden’s immigration agenda through reconciliation, he said, “I think they are dreaming; I don’t think the MP will allow that to happen. That is not really the purpose of reconciliation.”
To achieve this, the Democrats would have to grapple with strict budgetary rules that limit the possibilities for reconciliation. They demand that any policy change involved have more than just random budgetary implications. Other measures favored by liberal activists, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, were removed from a reconciliation package by the Senate MP, the ultimate arbiter of the rules, for failing to meet that benchmark.
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Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough recently said the reconciliation process could be applied at least one more time this fiscal year. That decision was widely seen as a trailblazer for Democrats to push ahead with Mr Biden’s infrastructure bill. It also got progressive activists thinking about what else they could get through, including action to fight climate change, expand Medicare, and overhaul the immigration system.
A team of immigration activists and researchers, as well as congressional assistants, are investigating the issue and seeking the best way to present their case to Ms. MacDonough, who refused to comment on this article. They have found precedents in the past, including one from 2005 that allowed changes to immigration policy as part of a budgetary vote package, and they enumerate the budgetary impact of the immigration proposals, which amounts to tens of billions.
Researchers have dredged supportive quotes from Republicans from 2005 when they received approval to include a measure to recover unused highly skilled visas into a reconciliation package. Mr. Cornyn praised the move as a way “to keep jobs here in America instead of exporting them to India and China”.
The pro-immigration group FWD.us hired Kevin Kayes, a former deputy Senate MP, to refine the procedural argument in favor of allowing the maneuver this year.
“These regulations set the precedent for us,” said Kerri Talbot, assistant director of the Immigration Hub. “A lot of the things we’re trying to do now relate to what was approved in 2005.”
Ms. Talbot is of the opinion that the impact of the immigration laws under consideration on the overall budget is high enough to meet the standard of reconciliation.
“We’re definitely in the tens of billions. We think we’ve passed that test,” she said.
The estimated cost of the legalization measures passed by the House is approximately $ 40 billion over a 10-year period.
Immigration advocates are also pushing for an accelerated route to citizenship for the more than five million unauthorized immigrants who are vital workers, which is likely to have an even bigger impact on health care services, Medicaid spending and tax credits.
Twenty-two Democrats, including four Senators, recently wrote a letter to Mr Biden asking him to add an immigration overhaul to his infrastructure package. Many fear they will lose control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, and fear that the Supreme Court will lift former President Barack Obama’s protections for dreamers.
“We should take this opportunity to finally do what the American people ask of us, namely to pass immigration reform,” said Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas and one of the authors of the letter, in an interview. “I don’t think Republicans should run out of time this term before we pass meaningful Senate immigration reform.”
However, it is likely that not all Democrats support a one-sided approach. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, is working with Mr. Cornyn to support legislation to respond to the surge in migrants on the southern border by funding four regional processing centers in busy border guard sectors and improving the administration’s ability to deal with such tributaries .
At the moment, Senator Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat who has been pushing a path to citizenship for the Dreamers for years, said that he was focused on passing a bipartisan immigration law and that Mr. Schumer had encouraged him to work to get a deal with Republicans.
“We are non-partisan and agree that we need to reform the system,” said Durbin.
North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis, another of the 15 senators involved in the immigration talks, said trying to use the reconciliation process for immigration reform was a “disaster”.
But Mr Tillis said he thinks a bipartisan deal combining a path to citizenship for the dreamers with a bigger investment in border security is still possible and may be nearer.
“The crisis on the border is undeniable – even the president is now admitting it. So if we can work on it and then work on some of the path options I’ve supported in the past, I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.