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Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package
President Biden on Thursday unequivocally backed Democratic efforts to include immigration in the budget as a way to navigate narrow margins in the Senate.
"I think we should include in the reconciliation bill the immigration proposal," Biden told reporters as he left the White House to accompany first lady Jill Biden to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The statement came immediately after a meeting with Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) legislators and others who have worked on immigration reform. The meeting was originally set up to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Earlier this week, Biden said "it remains to be seen" whether immigration could be included as part of a reconciliation bill, though lawmakers on Thursday said the president in their meeting voiced his strong backing for efforts to include it.
The White House later said in a statement that Biden and Vice President Harris "expressed their strong support for including immigration reform in upcoming reconciliation legislation to enable Dreamers, TPS recipients, farmworkers and essential workers to gain long-awaited pathways to citizenship."
"He agrees that the best path at this point is to try to use reconciliation as a vehicle for moving immigration pieces, and as robust as the votes will bear," Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) told The Hill after attending the meeting with Biden.
Beyond DACA, lawmakers at the meeting told Biden that the only viable path forward toward immigration reform is through reconciliation, a maneuver that needs just 50 votes but requires confirmation from the Senate parliamentarian that the policy includes enough fiscal components to merit the move.
"We talked about the urgency of now, and that this is the time to really make a 110 percent effort," said CHC Chairman Raúl Ruiz (D-Calif.).
Sanchez said lawmakers discussed looking for ways to have the package go beyond the DACA population, having the Congressional Budget Office score legislation that would also provide a pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers, workers deemed essential during the pandemic and those who already hold Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after being unable to return to their countries.
"We talked about those groups in particular because there are pieces of legislation already in existence that deal with those populations," she said.
In all, Democrats could make around 10 million people eligible for a path to citizenship - just shy of the 11 million people who would be affected by a bill from Biden that has stalled in Congress.
"For decades, politicians have refused to act to fix our broken immigration system, and this is our opportunity to ensure we are treating workers and families with dignity," Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) said in a statement after the meeting.
Democrats are all but certain to include immigration provisions in the reconciliation bill, but they are subject to the parliamentarian's ruling on the scope of legalizations allowed in the package.
While White House officials - including Biden - had before Thursday been more circumspect about the possibility of passing immigration provisions through reconciliation, immigrant advocates and congressional Democrats have grown more outspoken in support of the measure.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) earlier on Thursday said he planned to expand the White House conversation beyond DACA, and warned that there is no realistic Plan B to move forward on immigration beyond reconciliation.
"If we don't have reconciliation I'm not sure that there's a pathway forward," Menendez told immigration advocates on a call organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition.
Sanchez said that was in part due to "recalcitrant" Republicans, leaving bipartisan negotiations stalled.
"Republicans keep changing the goalposts and are not really serious when it comes to trying to find a solution to immigration reform," she said.
The group included the chairs of both House and Senate Judiciary committees - Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - as well as Menendez, Cortez Masto, Sens. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Ruiz and Sánchez.
"This is a critical moment for the future of immigration reform. The upcoming budget reconciliation process provides us with the best opportunity we've had in years to take action," Padilla said in a statement after the meeting. "I am grateful to have the unequivocal support of President Biden and Vice President Harris in our effort to finally provide immigrants with a well-earned pathway to citizenship through budget reconciliation."
Updated: 11:09 p.m.