WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats can’t use their $3.5 trillion package bolstering social and climate programs for their plan to give millions of immigrants a chance to become citizens, the Senate’s parliamentarian said, a crushing blow to what was the party’s clearest pathway in years to attaining that long-sought goal.
The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisan interpreter of its often enigmatic rules, is a damaging and disheartening setback for President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats and their allies in the pro-immigration and progressive communities. Though they said they’d offer her fresh alternatives, MacDonough’s stance badly wounds their hopes of unilaterally enacting — over Republican opposition — changes letting several categories of immigrants gain permanent residence and possibly citizenship.
The parliamentarian opinion that emerged Sunday is crucial because it means the immigration provisions could not be included in an immense $3.5 trillion measure that’s been shielded from GOP filibusters. Left vulnerable to those bill-killing delays, which require 60 Senate votes to defuse, the immigration language has virtually no chance in the 50-50 Senate.
In a three-page memo to senators obtained by The Associated Press, MacDonough noted that under Senate rules, provisions are not allowed in such bills if their budget effect is “merely incidental” to their overall policy impact.
Citing sweeping changes that Democrats would make in immigrants’ lives, MacDonough, a one-time immigration attorney, said the language “is by any standard a broad, new immigration policy.”
The rejected provisions would open multiyear doorways to legal permanent residence — and perhaps citizenship — for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, often called “Dreamers.” Also included would be immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who’ve fled countries stricken by natural disasters or extreme violence; essential workers and farm workers.
Estimates vary because many people can be in more than one category, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says 8 million people would be helped by the Democratic effort, MacDonough said. Biden had originally proposed a broader drive that would have affected 11 million immigrants.
Democrats and their pro-immigration allies have said they will offer alternative approaches to MacDonough that would open a doorway to permanent status to at least some immigrants.