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Democrats Prepare to Use Their Majority to Deliver on Citizenship for Immigrants

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Democrats are coalescing around the idea of using their majority and a 51-vote legislative vehicle to deliver citizenship for millions this year. 

Expanding on the details first noted in a Roll Call story from earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Times was out yesterday with a piece titled, Democrats to seek citizenship pathway for immigrants in infrastructure bill, Sanders says.” An excerpt:

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose committee would start the process of crafting a bill, confirmed Tuesday that it would include a pathway to citizenship, but said Democrats are still determining who would be covered.

‘We’re working on that right now,’ Sanders said. An early draft would call for $150 billion to go toward immigration policies, including the path to citizenship and some border security, according to a document circulating on Capitol Hill.

The earlier Roll Call story noted:

Explanatory documents argue that including such policies in a reconciliation bill would likely pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, citing a 2005 precedent for Senate-passed provisions to increase the number of immigrant visas in similar fashion.

Why reconciliation or another 51-vote vehicle? Yesterday’s Republican filibuster on the voting rights legislative debate is the latest reminder that Republicans are not operating in good faith. They don’t want policy breakthroughs, they want to delay and derail Democrats so they can retake power in 2022 and 2024. Senator John Cornyn’s involvement as a negotiator on bipartisan immigration talks is another tell. He has pretended to get to yes and gotten to no on immigration reform that created pathways to citizenship in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2018. Delay and derail is Cornyn’s thing.

Thankfully, leading Senate Democrats are endorsing or are open to a Democrats-only approach. 

  • Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ): “We prefer a bipartisan agreement even if it’s not everything we’d like to see. But in the absence of doing that, then those of us who believe in immigration reform feel that we have to at least pursue this option and see if it’s viable,” referring to reconciliation. Earlier, Senator Menendez said, “The Republicans of 2021 are not the same Republicans I worked with in 2013 … If they fail to negotiate in good faith … if they are more interested in punishing immigrants than offering them a path to citizenship, then all options are on the table for Democrats to deliver a path to citizenship.”
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA): “We are currently having good-faith discussions with our Republican colleagues to see if we can get to a bipartisan immigration bill with 60 votes. However, if Republicans do not want to provide much needed relief to Dreamers, TPS holders, and other immigrants who helped our country through the pandemic, then Democrats will need to consider using reconciliation to move forward.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): As the New York Times reported in May, Mr. Schumer has privately told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in recent weeks that he is ‘actively exploring’ whether it would be possible to attach a broad revision of immigration laws to President Biden’s infrastructure plan and pass it through a process known as budget reconciliation.” 
  • Senator Patty Murray (D-WA): Senator Murray, part of Democrats’ leadership team, stated: “We need to look at every legislative path possible to get comprehensive immigration reform done – including through reconciliation.”
  • Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA): Recently stated he is “exploring all options to include immigration provisions in a future reconciliation package,” noting that he “thinks there is a strong case to make sure that they are included.”

And Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) told Sahil Kapur of NBC News yesterday that he was open to a major reconciliation bill that invested in “human infrastructure.” 

Leading House Democrats are similarly on-board:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): As Roll Call reported in April, “‘We think we can make a case about the budget impacts of immigration in our country, and we are going to try to do that,’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on a call … referencing the Byrd rule, which excludes non budgetary provisions from reconciliation bills.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The majority of Americans voted to give the Congressional majority and the White House to Democrats. They don’t want Democrats to try hard and blame Republicans for obstruction; they want Democrats to go big, keep their promises and deliver results. 

Three quarters of the American people – including a substantial share of Republican voters – believe that it’s time for Congress to formally recognize undocumented immigrants as the Americans they already are. During the pandemic, immigrants have been there for us. Now we need to be there for them. They have been essential to our survival. They will be essential to our recovery. 

The country is counting on Democrats to deliver. Bipartisanship sounds nice in normal times. But we are not in normal times. The GOP has become an illiberal force dedicated to imposing its will on the majority by keeping our political system rigged in their favor. They continue to perpetrate the Big Lie about the last election, and they refuse to investigate the January 6th insurrection. They opposed COVID relief and are slow-walking infrastructure, police reform and immigration reform. 

Enough with the GOP delay-and-derail strategy. it’s time for Democrats to respond to this existential crisis and act with the urgency required to save our democracy.