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Democrats weigh reconciliation bill for immigration action

Caroline Simon, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON – Another budget reconciliation bill is likely on the horizon, and Democrats are eyeing the measure as a vehicle for a policy priority long mired in partisan disagreement: immigration overhaul.

In the coming months, congressional Democrats and the White House could use a budgetary maneuver requiring a simple Senate majority to advance a sweeping infrastructure package. The possibility became more serious Monday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a revised budget resolution could potentially be used to pass another reconciliation bill.

Democrats used a fiscal 2021 budget resolution earlier this year as the vehicle for a $1.86 trillion coronavirus relief package.

It’s far from certain that any immigration provisions could make it into another parliamentarian-approved reconciliation bill, and the comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system backed by the White House is even less likely.

But, spurred on by immigration advocates desperate for legislative action, Democrats plan to try.

“We think we can make a case about the budget impacts of immigration in our country, and we are going to try to do that,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on a call with Asian American Pacific Islander leaders last week, referencing the Byrd rule, which excludes nonbudgetary provisions from reconciliation bills.


The legislative push reflects the reality in a narrowly divided Congress that has struggled for years to reach any consensus on immigration policy. The current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, with the government scrambling to accommodate thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed in recent weeks, has both heightened those divisions and underscored the need to take some sort of action.

“I think that there is a substantial appetite for doing something in this space,” said a Democratic aide familiar with the budget negotiations, adding he’s spoken with multiple Democratic senators about including immigration provisions in a future reconciliation bill, including Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Budget Committee member Alex Padilla of California.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat sponsoring the comprehensive immigration bill backed by the White House, “will not foreclose any tool that will ultimately allow Democrats to give a pathway to citizenship to as many undocumented immigrants as possible,” said his spokesman Robert Julien.

In March, the House passed two immigration measures to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. One was intended for those brought to the U.S. as children and temporary protected status holders, and the other was for undocumented agricultural farmworkers. Neither measure is likely to get 60 votes in the Senate.


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