WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats were preparing to try letting millions of immigrants stay temporarily in the U.S. as part of the party's massive economic plan, people involved in the effort said Thursday, as the White House released an outline of President Joe Biden's trophy domestic legislation.
For the third time this year, Democrats were planning to ask the Senate parliamentarian whether an immigration proposal could be inserted into their package of social and environmental initiatives. It would let migrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2011 and who lack permanent legal status apply for a permit letting them stay and work for five years.
The permit could be renewed for a second five years and would protect them from deportation and also potentially let them travel abroad. It would not establish a new way for them to gain legal permanent residency or citizenship.
Helping immigrants is a major priority for progressive Democrats, and Biden used the first days of his presidency to propose helping 11 million migrants become citizens.
Democrats are using a special procedure that protects their economic package against GOP filibusters, which could kill it, but those rules also require provisions to be mostly budget related, not driven by new policies. The nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rejected Democrats' two previous immigration proposals.
The immigration proposal was described by two people who discussed it only on condition of anonymity. They said the provision would help around 7 million migrants remain temporarily in the U.S.
After Biden met Thursday with House Democrats at the Capitol and presented the outline of his now pared-down economic proposal, some expressed disappointment with his visit and the framework. While tables summarizing the programs in the 10-year, $1.75 trillion plan mentioned $100 billion for immigration, that money was listed separately, not within the overall price tag.
“The $100 billion is there but it’s a footnote,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., as he left the closed-door session with Biden. He added that during the meeting, Biden said “nothing on immigration,” an omission the lawmaker said left him feeling “anonymous.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the overall package was “still evolving.” But he said he was supportive of the measure because of its spending on children, expanding Medicaid and Medicare coverage and other programs.
Those initiatives “will greatly improve the lives of American families, especially Hispanics,” Ruiz said.
It was unclear when Senate aides would discuss the latest proposal with the parliamentarian but leaders want to push the overall legislation through Congress soon.
Some advocates are urging Democrats to use their 51-50 Senate majority — which includes Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote — to negate any ruling by MacDonough that blocks immigration language.
It was unclear if Democrats had the unanimous party support they would need to prevail. In the past leaders have shown little enthusiasm about overturning the parliamentarian's rulings.
“This is the year to deliver," said Lorella Praeli, co-president of the progressive Center for Community Change. “A procedural excuse will not do."
The White House economic framework provided just a broad description about how the $100 billion would be used. It said the money would help reduce various backlogs in the immigration process, provide more legal representation and make “the asylum system and border processing more efficient and humane.”
An initial House version of the economic legislation would let the government use hundreds of thousands of unused visas to admit people into the U.S. It would also change an old law to let migrants in the U.S. before 2010 apply for permanent legal status. That statute currently applies to people here before 1972, making it largely irrelevant.
The House and Senate will have to approve identical legislation before it can get Biden's signature.
In recent weeks, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled against two previous immigration proposals. One would have created a pathway to permanent residence for 8 million migrants. The other, like the House bill, would update the law letting those in the U.S. before 1972 apply for permanent status.
The $1.75 trillion overall plan is half the price tag envisioned three months ago, omits some priorities like requiring paid family leave and leaves detailed decisions for later. Party leaders' task of corralling the virtually unanimous backing Democrats will need to prevail over opposition Republicans in the narrowly divided Congress remained a work in progress.
Alan Fram, The Associated Press