Immigrant advocates release ‘Pathway to Citizenship in Five Steps’

A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups on Friday released a memo outlining the steps for congressional Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The 19-page memo calls on Democrats to proactively use the Senate’s complex rules in their favor to thread a comprehensive immigrant protection program into President Biden’s Build Back Better bill.

“Our elected leaders have promised for years to secure a pathway to citizenship, and this memo demonstrates how Senate Democrats can use their existing authority under Senate rules to make good on that promise,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), one of the groups that published the memo.

The UndocuBlack Network, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) joined NILC in publishing the memo.

While most of the procedural hurdles described in the memo are related to the Senate, for the strategy to work the House must first include broader immigration provisions than are currently in the bill.

According to the memo, the House must approve a bill with provisions to open eligibility for permanent residence to undocumented immigrants to avoid snags once the bill reaches the Senate.

“It is always harder to remove something from a bill than it is to add it, so House Democrats must make sure the pathway to citizenship is already in the budget bill when it goes to the Senate,” reads the memo.

But the current House bill, which Democratic leadership hopes to vote on Friday, does not include those provisions, instead opting to grant parole without permanent residency to millions of undocumented immigrants.

A trio of House Democrats, Reps. Jesús García (Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.) and Lou Correa (Calif.), have been working to convince moderate Democrats to sign off on a permanent residency plan, which would change the registry date for allowing undocumented immigrants to change their status — essentially a statute of limitations for undocumented immigrants.

Still, the bill has not come up for a vote because of resistance, unrelated to immigration, from a group of moderates who want to see a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on the full bill before committing to vote for it.

The last-minute CBO drama has sucked up the attention of leadership and moderates, as García, Espaillat and Correa hoped to bring the benefits of their registry plan to the forefront before the House vote.

Assuming a last-minute change in the language before the House vote, the memo outlines the process by which Senate Democrats could use the chamber’s rules to keep the permanent residency language in the bill.

The Senate parliamentarian — an unelected official who issues advisory opinions on Senate procedure — has twice ruled against permanent residency provisions’ compatibility with the reconciliation process.

The reconciliation process allows a simple majority to pass a budgetary bill avoiding the possibility of a filibuster.

In this case, Democrats are looking to stack a series of social spending priorities in the bill, including immigration, which will require the support of all senators in their caucus to pass.

While at least one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has said he will not vote to overrule the parliamentarian, the groups signing the memo are proposing a process that does not technically overrule the official’s advice.

“Green cards in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill is possible and this thoroughly vetted memo proves that. Another election cycle cannot begin with our communities unable to secure stability and certainty through legal permanent residency,” said Patrice Lawrence, executive director of the UndocuBlack Network.

According to the memo, the Senate’s presiding officer is ultimately responsible for rulings on what can and cannot be included in a reconciliation bill.

Still, the memo recognizes that immigration provisions could be stripped or rendered moot through amendments, and that all Democrats must agree with the strategy for the final bill to pass with those provisions included.

“There is no way around this: At the end of the day, we need all 50 Senate Democrats plus the Vice President to be on board with this strategy, and we need their votes to defeat bad amendments and win on final passage,” reads the memo.

The risk of not following the steps outlined in the memo, its writers say, outweigh the procedural wrangling it proposes.

“As this powerful memo makes crystal clear, any attempt to hide behind the unelected Senate Parliamentarian or wrap oneself in procedural chicanery, is nothing more than an attempt to avoid accountability for promises made to our immigrant communities,” said Angélica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA.