Democrats face mounting hurdles to agenda
House plans for immigration bills add uncertainty on Biden proposal
Congress plans to consider several stand-alone immigration bills this month, casting new doubt on whether President Biden's comprehensive proposal will make it to the floor.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday announced that the chamber would take up legislation during the week of March 15, following a push for an "immigration week" by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Sources say the House is expected to take up legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers, brought to the U.S. as young children, and others with temporary status. Another bill that's slated for consideration would expand visa and citizenship opportunities for migrant farmworkers, according to sources.
The No Ban Act - which bars the president from limiting immigration based on religion, a thinly veiled rejection of former President Trump's so-called Muslim ban - could also make it the floor for a vote.
But Biden's broad immigration bill is not likely to make the cut, something observers say leaves a big question mark for the legislation's future.
"I think the Biden proposal is dead. They don't have the votes for it in the House or Senate. The stand-alone bills are the only way to move the ball forward on immigration in the first 100 days," a Democratic source close to the administration told The Hill.
Biden's bill would provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million people in the U.S., including Dreamers and those with Temporary Protected Status - two groups covered by the stand-alone bills. But the president's proposal goes further by providing an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented individuals living in the U.S.
It also raises a number of immigration caps, increasing pathways for those outside of the U.S. who wish to immigrate.
When Democrats formally introduced Biden's bill, lawmakers appeared split on the best path forward, with some signaling a willingness to take a piecemeal approach while others stressed the need to counter any Republican resistance by sticking with a bold package like Biden's.
"We know the path forward will demand negotiations with others. But we are not going to make concessions out of the gate. We're not going to start with 2 million undocumented people instead of 11 million. We will never win an argument that we don't have the courage to make," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), said when the bill was rolled out in mid-February.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about plans for a slew of immigration bills to come to the House floor or whether Biden's proposal would still get a vote in his first 100 days in office. The office of Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who introduced Biden's bill in the House, also did not respond.
Administration officials have repeatedly urged patience on immigration and expressed an openness to advancing their agenda piece by piece using a blend of congressional and executive action.
Each bill set to be taken up in the House later this month has already previously passed, allowing the legislation to come directly to the floor without going through the committee process.
But some say the White House has already bungled its rollout of Biden's immigration bill.
"They never got buy-in from the Hill; they never got tons of input from members that would help create the bipartisan consensus. They decided they were going to draft a plan and people should sign on to it. It was the craziest thing one could imagine in a space that has always been difficult," a lobbyist who works on immigration issues told The Hill.
Still, with the House likely to easily pass the individual immigration bills, some see an advantage for Democrats, even with the future of Biden's bill unclear.
"The narrative will become that within 60 to 70 days they have transmitted a bill to the Senate," said a Democratic staffer closely following the legislation.
"Our hand is strengthened in getting it over the finish line because then the only thing that stops us from getting this done or kicking the can down road again is 10 Republican senators," the staffer said, referring to the 60 votes needed to pass legislation.
Sergio Gonzales, executive director of The Immigration Hub, an advocacy group, said the passage of stand-alone bills is likely to put a spotlight on Republicans.
"To me it's really interesting to see how Republicans will deal with this over the next two months. Whether they're going to choose to continue down the road of Stephen Miller and Donald Trump, or if they're going to chart a new path which is more in line with the American people and with what a number of constituency groups like businesses and states want to see," he said.
If the confirmation of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is any indication, some Republicans will put up a stiff fight. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) placed an initial hold on Mayorkas's confirmation, citing Biden's border wall policy and immigration bill, even though it had yet to be introduced.
Advocates who backed the Biden bill are split on the House approach.
"I'm disappointed. Of course we want to get the whole enchilada in terms of an immigration agreement, but we might have to settle for half," said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Garcia said he wished the Biden administration would seek to nix the filibuster in order to pass immigration reform without needing to clear the 60-vote threshold, though the president has repeatedly said he has no interest in going that far.
Others advocates said they're encouraged by the quick action planned in the House later this month.
"The fact that other bills are moving is a very positive development and, frankly, it's extraordinary that they are moving in such a short period of time," said Jorge Loweree, policy director for the American Immigration Council.
"Moving on immigration reform within three months of the start of the new Congress - that's a huge deal."