Immigration holdouts stage last-ditch effort to get green cards in reconciliation

Three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are lobbying moderate Democrats in the last hours before the first vote on the social spending package, looking to include a more ambitious immigration plan than is currently in the bill’s text.

Democratic Reps. Jesús García (Ill.), Lou Correa (Calif.) and Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), dubbed “the three amigos” for their efforts to include immigration provisions in the bill, are approaching so-called “frontline Democrats” to get their blessing on expanded immigration provisions.

House Democrats on Wednesday released the language of the bill, that includes a parole option for immigration, which would allow two five-year waivers for undocumented immigrants in the country since before 2011, allowing them to live and work in the United States.

But immigration activists have decried the parole option because it does not provide permanent residency — and with it a legal path to citizenship — as a treacherous non-permanent status that could potentially be subject to revocation by executive fiat or court action.

Advocates want Congress to include a change in registry date — essentially a statute of limitations for undocumented immigrants — that would allow any immigrants in the country before a certain date to apply for permanent residency.

The three amigos, all of whom conditioned their vote on the Build Back Better (BBB) bill to include immigration provisions, have not agreed to vote for the bill as it is currently written.

“If registry were in the bill I would vote for the BBB and the [infrastructure bill] together, of course,” said García.

“If not, then I’ve taken the position that I’ve taken. I’ve got to wait to see if there’s anything left in [the bill] that is an acceptable reform.”

The last minute lobbying push comes after the three amigos led a push within the CHC to formalize the group’s support of the registry option, and after a long meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Wednesday, where she laid out the slim margins for expanding language on immigration.

“She was very frank. She knows her caucus and she’s not in an easy place, but she said we have our work cut out for us to persuade our colleagues to vote for the registry proposal,” said García.

“Obviously that’s worth a shot,” he added.

The bill is due to be marked up by the Rules Committee as early as Thursday afternoon, and could be voted on by the House later Thursday or on Friday.

Once that process is rolling, Democratic leadership is unlikely to approve any major changes, risking passage of a bill it has already twice delayed.

A large part of reluctance from some progressive and moderate Democrats to vote for the registry proposal is the fact that the Senate parliamentarian has already ruled that idea incompatible with reconciliation procedures.

Democrats are pushing the BBB plan with zero Republican support, and they need to use reconciliation to avoid a GOP filibuster.

To successfully do so, Democrats need the unanimous support of their Senate caucus, and moderates in that chamber have said they will not support overruling the parliamentarian, an unelected official who gives advisory opinions on Senate rules.

Still, the CHC’s four Senate members asked the three amigos to push forward on including the change of registry date in the final House reconciliation bill.

“They feel that once it’s in the Senate they can engage in the negotiations necessary to be successful. When you engage in a negotiation, you don’t begin with the bottom line, you begin with as robust a position as possible,” said García.

It’s unclear what path the CHC’s Senate contingent would take to engage in those negotiations, since a push to overrule the parliamentarian could imperil the full bill, but the Senate’s top two Democrats, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) have been personally involved in pushing the issue.

In October, 92 legal scholars called on Senate leadership to sidestep the parliamentarian entirely by having the body’s presiding officer deliver a binding opinion on the immigration plan’s compatibility with reconciliation.

Still, immigration has been far from the most controversial issue in the negotiations to craft the spending bill, in part because it’s slated to cost a relatively paltry $100 billion, compared to the full $1.75 trillion price tag.

That’s made the task of approaching moderates easier, according to García and others involved in the last-minute effort.

“We’re not finding strong resistance or objection to this,” he said.

“The fact that BBB is so large affects so many areas of people’s lives,” García added, “the immigration provisions are such a small part of it that we’re finding out it’s not top of mind.”

Tags Adriano Espaillat Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Immigration Lou Correa Nancy Pelosi Parole Registry social spending package
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