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Despite the Parliamentarian’s “No,” Democrats Must Get Immigration Done

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The Senate Parliamentarian’s recommendation to not include language legalizing undocumented immigrants in the budget plan to be considered under reconciliation is, obviously, a setback. But that doesn’t mean the Democrats can wash their hands of this issue. On the contrary, the Democrats who still control the White House and Congress, albeit with tight majorities, have to get truly creative to arrive at some mechanism that allows the largest number of people possible to obtain a pathway to citizenship.

There are humanitarian, economic, political, and historical reasons why they should. There are people who have waited decades to regularize their status; it’s been almost thirty-five years since the 1986 amnesty. Legalization brings major economic benefits to the nation. And politically, for decades the Democrats have been promising a reform that never arrives.

The immigrants waiting for a solution are already fearless. Setbacks don’t keep them from continuing to strive to get ahead and keep operating in this society.

But that does not mean the Democrats—who claim to defend the interests of these immigrants and who have, over decades, counted on the political support of those who support these immigrants due to family ties or empathy—can rest on their laurels and once again say “it can’t be done.”

The excuse has always been that the Republican opposition has stopped any advance; and although this is true, we have already repeated ad nauseum the previous opportunities that Democrats had—and wasted—to advance this issue.

What was missing was the addition of the Parliamentarian’s “No” to the Republican opposition’s argument.

We also hope that, unlike in previous opportunities, the Democrats don’t become paralyzed by the same old Republican strategy of using immigrants as punching bags in election years. The Parliamentarian’s “No,” the tragic situation at the border with the arrival of thousands of Haitians, as well as the Afghan refugee crisis have fortified Republicans to keep on falsely correlating immigration with crime. And there are always moderate and conservative Democrats who run from the topic like the devil from the cross, to avoid riling up their constituents.

With control of both chambers in play, as in previous times, the Democrats avoid thorny topics and always insist that “if we win, we’ll tackle the issue.” Then they win and since we are always in the middle of elections, those difficult topics get postponed for decades.

It’s not just immigration. Some months ago the Parliamentarian said “No” to a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as part of the budget package. There are also measures to combat climate change and modernize the country’s fragile and antiquated infrastructure.

These are issues that the loyal base of the Democratic Party supports; the base that, election after election, goes to the polls to give them another chance. It’s time for the Democrats to return the favor and produce concrete results, even though the Parliamentarian said “No.” She is not an elected official who is indebted to her constituents. The Democratic legislators are.

In a telephonic press conference with pro-immigrant activists, the Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menéndez, insisted that the Parliamentarian’s “No” was to one specific proposal, and there are others on the table that will soon be offered.

He also insisted that they will continue exploring other available options.

We shall see.

Maribel Hastings