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Ocasio-Cortez Leads Campaign to Add Immigration Reform Back Into Reconciliation

The proposal would create a citizenship pathway for Dreamers, TPS holders and essential workers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends a press conference during COP26, on November 10, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and other Democratic leaders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and 90 other Democratic House colleagues urged the Senate to add immigration reform proposals that were previously cut from the Build Back Better Act back into the bill.

The lawmakers are advocating for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and farm and essential workers. The reconciliation bill passed by the House provides opportunities for temporary work visas and deportation relief for undocumented people, but no permanent solutions for them.

“When Congress promises ‘immigration reform,’ as it has done throughout the negotiation process, our party must fully deliver on that promise,” the lawmakers wrote. “For decades, immigrants have sought relief from the precarity of jumping from one temporary status to another in the only country they can call home. Another temporary status would merely extend this precarity.”

Without pathways to citizenship enshrined into law, the lives of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are often left to the whims of different presidential administrations and employers.

While Republican presidents have more openly used racist rhetoric against immigrants, Democratic presidents are often not “pro-immigrant” as the party purports to be; Joe Biden, for instance, has dramatically increased the number of immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under his tenure, and deported asylum seekers at the southern border en masse, many of them to Haiti, which is experiencing mass political and environmental instability. Human rights experts and former State Department employees have slammed Biden’s deportations as inhumane and immoral. And under Barack Obama, over 2.5 million people were deported — more than any in U.S. history.

Democratic staff are meeting with the parliamentarian on Tuesday to discuss the current immigration proposal in the bill.

Lawmakers cut the citizenship pathway proposal from the bill when, in September, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it would not have a significant impact on the budget. Proposals must be relevant to the federal budget to be included in the budget reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to pass bills through a simple majority vote.

Contrary to the parliamentarian’s ruling, however, reports by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and economists say that immigration reform does affect the budget significantly; not only would the proposal move the country’s immigration policies in a more humane direction, but it would also have significant and positive impacts on the economy, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Whether or not Democrats decide to include the proposal is “a question of political will,” the letter read. “We do understand that the Senate Parliamentarian has issued a memorandum dismissing — despite evidence to the contrary — the budgetary impact of providing a pathway to citizenship,” the lawmakers continued. “But the role of the Parliamentarian is an advisory one, and the Parliamentarian’s opinion is not binding.”

Indeed, the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling on the budget reconciliation process can be overturned by the vice president. Progressives pointed this out earlier this year when the parliamentarian said that a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour couldn’t fit into the reconciliation process, despite evidence showing otherwise. The Biden administration was opposed to bucking the parliamentarian’s recommendation at the time, much to progressive lawmakers’ chagrin.

Democrats have another option at their disposal if they’re dedicated to including the immigration reform proposals: They could replace the parliamentarian with someone else, which is what Republicans did in 2001 in order to pass a series of tax cuts under George W. Bush. However, this process may be lengthy, and lawmakers say they are eager to pass the bill soon.

It could be beneficial to Democrats politically if they chose to add the immigration proposals back in. Though much of the public is likely unaware of the archaic and obscure laws regarding budget reconciliation, polling has found that a majority of the public is in favor of creating pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders and undocumented workers. 80 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans support such a proposal, Data For Progress found earlier this year.

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