Democrats Signal Massive Citizenship Program for Undocumented Immigrants

Aug 3, 2021
8:10 PM

Sen. Robert Menendez (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A long-elusive pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States is in the works on Capitol Hill.

Budget reconciliation is the legislative tool that the White House and congressional Democrats bank on to finally deliver permanent relief to several broad categories of the undocumented immigrant population.

“We’d like to make it as robust as possible,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told Latino Rebels in the Senate tunnels on Tuesday afternoon.

Menendez added that “DREAMers, farmworkers, TPS, essential workers is at least a critical unit” of the robust immigrant legalization program Democrats envision within the budget reconciliation agreement announced by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer on July 13.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Democratic Senators Menendez, Dick Durbin (IL), Alex Padilla (CA), Ben Ray Luján (NM), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (NV) to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was blocked by a federal judge.

House Democrats Jerry Nadler (NY), Pete Aguilar (CA), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Lucille Roybal Allard (CA), Raul Ruiz (CA), and Linda Sanchez (CA) also attended Thursday’s immigration policy meeting at the White House.

“It was a good meeting,” Cortez-Masto told Latino Rebels on Friday outside the Senate chamber. “I made it very clear that there are many in my state who are on the front lines of this pandemic and the DACA recipients and essential workers who we should be looking at to put in reconciliation on a pathway to citizenship.”

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough advises the presiding officer on what can and cannot be included in a budget reconciliation package, according to her interpretation of the upper chamber’s Standing Rules.

The presiding officer of the Senate can overrule the parliamentarian. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have both told Latino Rebels that they support overruling MacDonough if she tries to nix a path to citizenship from the budget reconciliation agreement.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Senator Durbin told reporters last month when asked about the prospect of overruling MacDonough, if necessary, to include an immigrant legalization program in the budget agreement.

“We’re not there yet,” Cortez-Masto told Latino Rebels when asked the same question.

So did Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), verbatim: “We’re not there yet.”

Last month, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told Latino Rebels about a 2005 decision by MacDonough’s predecessor, then-parliamentarian Alan Fruman, to include an immigrant legalization program in a budget reconciliation agreement that passed the Senate without objection, but was ultimately never enacted into law.

“I think in that case it was something like from a work visa to a legal permanent resident status and that was fine to include in a reconciliation bill,” Kaine said. “With that precedent, obviously we have to meet parliamentarian standards on anything in the bill, but we think there’s precedent for including some immigration components in it.”

Had the 2005 budget agreement become law, it would have effectively increased the number of green cards issued annually by putting unused immigrant visas back into circulation for qualified immigrants to apply for, thus creating the precedent Kaine and other Senate Democrats hope will help MacDonough determine that permanent relief for millions of undocumented immigrants is permissible through budget reconciliation.

“We should include in the reconciliation bill the immigration proposal,” President Biden told reporters last week on the White House South Lawn.

The Senate is expected to stay in Washington for at least the first two weeks of August to focus on the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently making its way through the upper chamber, then finalize the details of the budget reconciliation agreement so that it is ready for when the House returns for committee work at the end of the month.


Pablo Manríquez is Latino Rebels’ Washington correspondent. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @PabloReports.