News that the U.S. Senate parliamentarian once again rejected Democratic efforts to include immigration reform in President Biden’s $2 trillion Build Back Better budget proposal elicited deep disappointment from the White House and Capitol Hill.
And that was before Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Sunday he will not support the bill — putting the entire piece of legislation in peril.
On immigration, the reaction was one of disappointment tinged with anxiety and cynicism for many immigrants.
“What I am hearing from our congregations is that people are in the top level of stress and people are so fed up with the situation,” said Ruben Ortiz, Latino field coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
There is also anger at the administration and Congressional Democrats for watering down proposed immigration reforms included in the budget, Ortiz said. “A lot of people are complaining Hispanics only get courted for voting purposes. There is a lot of frustration and anger at the moment.”
There was plenty of that to go around Dec. 16 and 17 after Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough shot down Democrats’ third attempt to work immigration reform language into the president’s overall spending plan. Proponents had hoped the move would circumvent Republicans’ ongoing filibuster.
MacDonough rejected previous proposals that extended deportation protections and eventual citizenship eligibility to millions of immigrants — including Dreamers, essential workers and those in the nation with Temporary Protected Status — on the grounds the plan did not meet Senate rules.
Democrats’ latest submission pared the request down to granting temporary parole status and temporary work and travel permits to immigrants. But MacDonough ruled this idea also did not meet Senate requirements for inclusion in the budget proposal.
“The decision by the parliamentarian is deeply disappointing and relegates millions to an uncertain and frightening future,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One, according to a White House transcript.
“The president, the administration and our partners on the Hill vehemently disagree with this decision and will keep fighting to give relief and protection to the many Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers and essential workers who are living in fear.”
But Psaki said the responsibility for those reforms lies beyond the White House or even the parliamentarian: “Ultimately, it’s time for Congress to stop kicking the can down the road and finally provide certainty and stability to these groups and make other badly needed reforms to our outdated immigration system.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois joined other Democratic senators in criticizing the parliamentarian’s decision and vowing to keep fighting for immigrants.
“Throughout the entire reconciliation process, we have worked to ensure that immigration reform was not treated as an afterthought. The majority of Americans support our efforts to provide legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States because it would raise wages, create good-paying jobs, enrich our economy and improve the lives of all Americans.”
While disappointment was on mass display after the decision, surprise was not — at least among immigrants, said Carlos Malaise, director of the Latino Christian National Network.
“I don’t think people had high expectations at this point that this was going to happen,” he explained. “We were just hoping that somehow it could be included, but the fact that the parliamentarian rejected that possibility didn’t really crush the hopes of people who are fighting for immigrants.”
Immigrant advocates vowed to keep the pressure on Washington to pass meaningful reforms.
“Our communities are calling for Congress to do the moral thing and disregard the parliamentarian’s opinion,” said Peniel Ibe, policy engagement coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee. “We must look at the impact of permanent protections on the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants — it outweighs the opinion of the parliamentarian or archaic Senate rules.”
Barbara Weinstein, director of the commission on social action for Reform Judaism, said Scripture is clear that immigrants must be welcomed. “It is past time to provide a pathway to citizenship for our 11 million immigrant neighbors,” she declared. “We call on Congress not to let this latest setback keep them from delivering on immigration this year.”
In addition to the moral and biblical imperative to help immigrants, many have earned a right to remain in the nation legally during the coronavirus outbreak, said Giovana Oaxaca, program director for migration policy with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“During the pandemic, countless numbers of undocumented immigrants have risked their lives to advance and protect the health, safety and well-being of all Americans. Permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for these individuals is long-overdue and is absolutely essential for the country’s continued health response and economic recovery.”
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