Senate Parliamentarian Rules Out Dems’ Immigration Plan B

Senate Parliamentarian Rules Out Dems’ Immigration Plan B

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
September 29, 2021

Senate’s parliamentarian blocked Democrats’ second bid to legalize illegal immigrants through the $3.5 trillion tax and spend budget bill Wednesday, dealing a second blow to the party’s efforts in creating a massive legalization program without obtaining any Republican support.

The decision from the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, the top upper chamber official, tasked with interpreting the rules on whether a provision is a budgetary matter, shot down Democrats’ first plan last week to allow undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for permanent legal status. Calling the plan a “broad, new immigration policy” that would represent a “tremendous and enduring policy change,” MacDonough ruled the proposal inappropriate for “inclusion in reconciliation,” a procedure that can be used to pass budget bills with a simple majority of 51 senators.

Democrats’ first plan hoped to use the budget reconciliation process to create a massive legalization program for young immigrant “Dreamers,” farmworkers, those deemed “essential workers,” and those who are protected by Temporary Protected Status. They argued to the Senate parliamentarian that their proposal would have a budgetary impact because it would allow certain immigrants to gain permanent residency, which would qualify them for federal benefits, like Medicaid and food stamps.

However, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) preliminary estimate predicted that the nearly 8 million adjusted to legal permanent residence (LPR) status under the program would increase budget deficits by $139.6 billion over a 10-year period due to the expansion of the social safety net and benefits programs it would require.

Plan B Democrats presented to the parliamentarian earlier this week proposed changing the “registry date,” which grants immigrants who arrived in the U.S before the date to apply for legal status if they met other conditions. Federal immigration law registry date is currently set for 1972 and only allows those in the U.S before the imposed date to apply. Democrats pitched to change the 1972 “registry date” to 2010, but MacDonough said this option is a “weighty policy change” and is out of bounds to be included in the reconciliation bill.

In the four-paragraph guidance, MacDonough told Demcorats that changing the “registry date” is a “weighty policy change and our analysis of this issue is thus largely the same” as the first original plan.

“This registry proposal is also one in which those persons who are not currently eligible to adjust status under the law (a substantial proportion of the targeted population) would become eligible, which is a weighty policy change and our analysis of this issue is thus largely the same as the [lawful permanent resident] proposal,” MacDonough wrote.

“The number of beneficiaries and score of this amendment to the INA are largely the same as those of the earlier proposal, which does not dramatically shift the balance of policy vs. score. The change in status to [lawful permanent resident] remains a life-long change in circumstances, the value of which vastly outweighs its budgetary impact,” MacDonough added.

According to an analysis by, changing the registry date to 2010 — allowing any migrants who’ve been in the country since that date to apply for residency — would make around 6.7 million people eligible for legal permanent residency.

“It’s unfortunate. I disagree with her,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told reporters in response to MacDonough’s latest verdict, adding that Democrats are ready to present the parliamentarian with a “Plan C,” and they are “not done.”

Progressive Democrats and immigrant advocates immediately renewed calls for Senate Demcorats to overrule MacDonough’s latest ruling, something the majority party can do. Under the Senate chamber’s rules, the presiding officer of the Senate — Vice President Kamala Harris, can disregard the parliamentarian’s advice. However, doing so would give both parties more license to ignore any if not all of the parliamentarian decisions in a contentious fight in the future, as both sides have accepted the parliamentarian’s final rulings during recent disputes.

Both, Menendez and Sen, Dick Durbin (D-IL), have indicated that Democrats won’t take this unprecedented action.

Mona Salama

Mona Salama

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