Democrats eye immigration action in budget, but outlook hazy

Jul 12, 2021, 9:13 PM | Updated: 9:54 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats and immigration advocates are staring at their best chance in years to overcome Republican opposition and give millions of people in the U.S. without legal authorization a way to become citizens.

Their goal is to stuff the language into a huge measure this fall financing many of President Joe Biden’s priorities that would be shielded from a Republican Senate filibuster. That bill-killing procedure requires a virtually impossible 60 votes to overcome, but erasing that danger with a Democrat in the White House means they could score an immigration triumph by themselves after years of Republicans blockading such efforts.

“This is the chance to finally get it done,” said Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, a pro-immigration strategy group.

Yet Democrats’ prospects, while tantalizing, remain murky because of two major hurdles.

Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress will need virtual unanimity to approve the sweeping legislation, which could include Biden’s proposed tax boosts on the wealthy and other proposals likely to cause political heartburn. On immigration alone, the party will need solid support from vulnerable swing-district Democrats and moderates, whom Republicans are certain to accuse of favoring amnesty and open borders in next year’s elections for congressional control.

Immigration advocates point to polls showing public support for opening the citizenship doorway and studies showing immigration spurs economic growth.

But Republicans and conservative groups sense a favorable political environment for themselves. They cite the large numbers of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border recently and growing public concern with crime, which the GOP often links to immigration.

“It would be a harder fight for our side if the administration were actually controlling the border,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations director for NumbersUSA, which favors limiting immigration. “It doesn’t seem like a great way to go into the midterms” for Democrats.

Yet perhaps Democrats’ biggest hurdle is the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, who determines whether legislative language follows the chamber’s rules. MacDonough, 55, is a respected impartial arbiter, but Democrats haven’t forgotten that she ruled against including another coveted progressive priority, a minimum wage increase, in their COVID-19 relief package months ago, essentially dooming the provision.

In a crucial first step in this process, Congress must approve a budget resolution. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been trying to win Democratic support for one that he hopes to unveil soon.

The budget will be pivotal in two ways. First, it will contain language preventing Republicans from filibustering the subsequent bill funding Biden’s priorities. By law, the budget resolution itself cannot be filibustered.

Second, the budget will set overall spending and revenue limits for that forthcoming spending bill, which is expected to be several trillion dollars. It will also assign congressional committees specific amounts they can spend, or raise in revenue, as they write language bolstering climate, family support and other priorities.

Lawmakers are also writing a separate measure financing infrastructure projects that they hope to pass with bipartisan support.

In an early budget draft, Sanders proposed creating multiyear pathways to legal permanent residency, and potentially citizenship, for four groups of immigrants without legal status. These are people brought illegally to the U.S. as children, called “Dreamers”; others who fled violence or disasters in certain countries; essential workers; and farmworkers.

Because some immigrants fit into multiple groups, it’s hard to say exactly how many people Sanders’ proposal would help. The liberal Center for American Progress estimates it would affect 6 million people — barely over half the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally whom Biden wants to assist, but still huge.

“In the whole scheme of immigration reform, it does not go far enough,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said of Sanders’ plan. “But we are strategically tailoring the groups that would most likely fit into a budgetary framework” so it would survive the parliamentarian perusal.

Under Senate rules, provisions in a bill immune from filibusters must affect spending or revenue in a way that isn’t “merely incidental” to that provision’s overall policy. That’s a subjective call that will be up to MacDonough, the parliamentarian, to make.

Democrats are pinning their hopes on a 2005 ruling by an earlier Senate parliamentarian that gave the green light to a narrower immigration proposal, though that provision never cleared Congress.

Sanders’ early budget proposal also called for $126 billion for processing immigrants for legal status, and $24 billion to strengthen border security.

Border security money is especially important for Democrats facing close 2022 reelections because it will let them argue they’re being tough, not just swinging doors open to immigrants. This could be important for moderates like Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and House lawmakers from closely divided or border-area districts.

Also being watched closely, though not facing imminent reelection, are Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of Congress’ most conservative Democrats, and hard-to-predict centrist Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Sanders’ security proposal “shows one of the most progressive members of the Senate is saying, ‘We’ve got to pay attention to border security,'” said Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, which supports immigration. “It shows he’s taking the politics of this seriously.”

Immigration advocates are already applying pressure.

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., told The Hill publication he’d oppose the sweeping spending bill unless it has a citizenship pathway for immigrants. We Are Home, a coalition of pro-immigration groups, and other organizations have announced a $50 million campaign to prod lawmakers to back the push.

“People are fed up with empty promises,” said Lorella Praeli, co-president of the progressive group Community Change Action and a We Are Home leader. “Focus on the people who elected you.”

Democrats have no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate, and this autumn will be able to lose no more than three House votes.

The House approved two bills in March creating pathways to citizenship for many “Dreamers,” refugees from troubled countries and agricultural workers. While bipartisan talks have continued, the measures have gone nowhere in the Senate, largely due to GOP opposition.

“If we use every tool and every ounce of our power, then we can legalize millions this year,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - The Flint water plant tower is seen, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Flint, Mich. A Michigan Supr...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Years later, Flint water court fight drags on

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan authorities have long promised to hold key officials criminally responsible for lead contamination and health problems arising from a disastrous water switch in Flint in 2014. There’s not much to show more than eight years later. The latest: an extraordinary rebuke Tuesday from the state Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed indictments […]
12 hours ago
FILE-- Gas is advertised for more than $6 per gallon at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif., Friday...
Associated Press

California lawmakers to vote on $307.9 billion spending plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Wednesday will vote on a plan to spend $308 billion in taxpayer money over the next year as the coffers of the world’s fifth largest economy continue to swell during the pandemic. The centerpiece of the operating budget crafted by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders is […]
12 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the Sou...
Associated Press

Most say nation on wrong track, including Dems: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — An overwhelming and growing majority of Americans say the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction, including nearly 8 in 10 Democrats, according to a new poll that finds deep pessimism about the economy plaguing President Joe Biden. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults say the country is on the wrong track, and […]
12 hours ago
Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, arrives at the federal courthouse with his wife Sv...
Associated Press

Giuliani’s former Ukraine fixer gets 20 months in prison

NEW YORK (AP) — Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a figure in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment investigation, was sentenced Wednesday to a year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes. Parnas, 50, had sought leniency on the grounds that he’d cooperated with the Congressional probe of […]
12 hours ago
This Feb. 26, 2021, file photo shows an oil well east of Casper, Wyo. The Biden administration is r...
Associated Press

Biden administration holding its first onshore oil sales

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. government this week is holding its first onshore oil and gas drilling lease auctions since President Joe Biden took office after a federal court blocked the administration’s attempt to suspend such sales because of climate change worries. The online auctions start Wednesday and conclude Thursday. About 200 square miles […]
12 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Democrats eye immigration action in budget, but outlook hazy