Immigrants and their allies are calling for bold and creative Congressional action after a U.S. Senate official blocked a Democratic attempt to address immigration reform through a $3.5 trillion budget proposal.
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough this week ruled that budget amendments providing permanent residency and paths to citizenships to about 8 million Dreamers, Temporary Protective Status holders, migrant farmworkers and others deemed “essential” represented too much of a policy shift to include in the reconciliation process, which would shield the measures from Republican filibusters.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said in a statement released on Twitter. “We will continue fighting to pursue the best path forward to grant them the ability to obtain lawful status.”
Schumer indicated some of that work already has been done. “Senate Democrats have prepared alternative proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.”
While hopeful that Schumer and others in Congress succeed in those efforts, some immigrants said they aren’t holding their breath for progress in efforts to protect them from deportation or having to live underground.
“I just don’t feel like either party really wants to legalize a vast amount of people, and what they do is delay, then just blame it on each other,” said Dreamer Daniel Gonzales-Zaral, 36, who qualified for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after being brought into the U.S. at age 11 by his immigrant parents from Bolivia.
“Sometimes I think Democrats say they support it because they want the Hispanic vote, but when it comes to the actual moment, they back off. I think they should be pushing harder,” said Gonzales-Zaral, who works as a federal contractor in Virginia. “I think I can speak for all of us (Dreamers) that that we wish Republicans and Democrats should work their way through this.”
Dreamer Ricardo Morones Torres of Austin, Texas, said his frustration is not directed at the parliamentarian, whose job is to referee Senate procedures.
“Acting like the parliamentarian is an obstacle is just a theatrical stunt seemingly used to lead with, ‘Sorry folks, we tried to include immigration in the reconciliation bill, but the parliamentarian would not let us. We tried.’ Immigrants see the theatrical politics at play, and it’s frankly disappointing,” said Morones Torres, 34, a law school graduate and aspiring attorney.
Sadly, none of this is anything new to immigrants long accustomed to the high-visibility political squabbles with their fate hanging in the balance, said Allison J. Tanner, pastor of public witness at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., and a faith leader with Human Integrity, a statewide organization that works on immigration and incarceration issues.
For immigrants without legal status, the budget setback “is just another manifestation of this long, ongoing struggle. And it is a reminder that this is another tactic that didn’t work and now we are on to the next one,” she said.
But any cynicism about the process is tempered the very real and frightening prospects of losing family members through deportation or living underground. “People’s lives are at stake,” Tanner said.
It’s painfully true for TPS holders who have lived in the U.S. for decades, working jobs, paying taxes and raising families, she explained.
Immigrant advocates also are hard-hit by the most recent setback, Tanner added. “My sense is that the rage comes even more from the allies, saying, ‘How dare you continue to do this?’”
This should be a reminder that the parliamentarian action, and the larger immigration debate, are much more than political disagreements, said Stephen Reeves, director of advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and executive director of Fellowship Southwest.
“These are big systemic issues that have everyday consequences,” said Reeves, who was asked by a Dreamer why Americans don’t want he and other immigrants in the country. “It is not just far-away politics, it’s very personal.”
But Reeves noted there is strong public support for granting some form of legal status to Dreamers in particular, with a 2020 Pew survey showing that 74% of Americans agree.
“Most people across the political spectrum believe the immigration system is broken and agree on what can be fixed with consensus, but our politics is not responsive to that,” he said.
CBF Advocacy and Fellowship Southwest will continue to press politicians and faith leaders to support previous immigration reform bills already passed by the House or to craft new legislation, Reeves said. “While we are disappointed in this particular moment, it does provide an opportunity for true bipartisan reform.”
But the economic benefit provided by immigrants should have kept reform in the budget process, according to Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“It is incredibly disappointing that 8 million people may be deprived of a pathway to citizenship because of a questionable interpretation of archaic Senate rules,” she said. “The parliamentarian’s decision insufficiently recognized the budgetary implications of $1.7 trillion in economic impact, 500,000 jobs, and the additional taxes immigrants would contribute under this proposal.”
Hopefully, Democrats will use their control of Congress and the White House to their advantage on this issue, she added. “There is no substitute for bold, decisive leadership on this issue.”
“While this is a blow to the prospects for immigration reform via reconciliation, it is by no means a knockout,” Vignarajah continued. “Advocates and our allies are far from throwing in the towel. A bipartisan majority of voters supports citizenship for millions of Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers and essential workers. This is the resounding will of the people. It is incumbent upon our elected officials to deliver on their promise of the first major immigration reform in nearly 40 years.”