Exclusive: Democrat García will not back reconciliation without immigration

Illinois Rep. Jesús García (D) said Tuesday he will support a budget reconciliation package only if it includes provisions to grant a pathway to citizenship to a broad spectrum of the country's undocumented population.

García's position is notable because Democrats have a slim majority in the House and can afford only a few defections if they are to get a reconciliation package to President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE's desk.

"A robust and equitable budget reconciliation deal must include a pathway to citizenship for
immigrants — our country can’t make a full recovery without it, and I can’t support any deal that
leaves so many people in my district behind," said García in a statement.

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"We must seize this historic opportunity to bring compassion and dignity to our immigration system and provide the certainty that comes with having the legal status that millions of immigrants and their families deserve," he added.

Although other Democrats have said they support including immigration provisions in the reconciliation package, García is the first to make an official statement drawing what will likely become a progressive red line for the upcoming bill.

The reconciliation bill will package Democratic economic priorities that were left off the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Biden negotiated with Republican senators.

It's expected to include a host of provisions that Democrats call "human infrastructure," including child care, and the back-and-forth between progressives and moderates has so far been about the overall cost of the bill rather than its substantial content.

Progressive immigration advocates have been increasingly confident that their main ask — essentially a legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants — will be included in the bill.

García did not call for a blanket legalization, instead focusing on groups that have been included in other legislation, including beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, farmworkers and undocumented immigrants deemed essential workers during the pandemic.

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Such a move could provide legal status to anywhere between 5 million and 10 million people.

"For decades, I have heard the plight of family, friends, and people in my community from the Chicago region whose lives have been put on hold. We cannot wait any longer to fix our immigration system and we need to use any opportunity available to do so, including budget reconciliation for DACA youth, TPS holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers," said García.

Bills to legalize DACA beneficiaries, other undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors, TPS beneficiaries and farmworkers have already cleared the House with some bipartisan support.

And Democrats have made clear their support to include essential workers, such as meat processing plant workers, in any legalization effort.

"This is crucial for thousands of undocumented essential workers I represent. They sacrificed themselves to keep this country running during the worst of the pandemic and frequently had no access to relief or medical assistance for fear of being deported. We owe it to them," said García.

García's positioning follows public calls in slightly more hushed tones by other progressives looking to include immigration provisions in a reconciliation effort.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails MORE (D-Wash.) last week tweeted her list of priorities for the bill, including a pathway to citizenship, and Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroHarris's delayed trip to Vietnam ratchets up Havana Syndrome fears Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals MORE (D-Texas) said immigration reform "should be included" in reconciliation.

But García took the next step, linking his support of the broad effort to inclusion of immigration provisions.

Immigration provisions are unlikely to be particularly expensive, especially compared with some of the other Democratic priorities in the bill, and most outside observers have noted they would have a positive economic impact.

But immigration has been a political sticking point for decades, and Democrats will need unanimous support in the Senate and can afford to drop only a handful of votes in the House to pass any reconciliation measure.

Republicans have vowed to make passage of reconciliation as politically painful as possible for Democrats, and the GOP is ready to attack a bill that liberalizes immigration. 

Still, progressives and immigration advocates believe they have the clout to draw a red line and will make the case for the urgency to pass overdue immigration reform.

A reconciliation bill will likely not allow for the modification of underlying immigration laws but could allow Congress to grant benefits to undocumented immigrants, something that hasn't happened since 1986.

"This would potentially be the first meaningful legislative action on this matter in 35 years," said García.