Immigrant Protections Short of Path to Citizenship Gain Traction

  • Undocumented immigrants could get 5-year work permits
  • Democrats to present to Senate official as soon as next week

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Democrats are pursuing a downsized option to provide relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants through sweeping tax and social spending legislation.

The latest proposal to aid essential workers, “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children, and other foreigners in the country without papers would provide temporary work authorization and protection from deportation. It falls short of the pathway to permanent legalization and citizenship long sought by immigrants’ rights advocates.

The Congressional Budget Office is reviewing the “parole in place” plan to estimate its cost, and Democrats could present it to the parliamentarian as soon as next week, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Democrats’ proposal would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s use of parole to include millions of undocumented immigrants, allowing them to apply for five-year work permits and subsequent renewals, sources familiar said. Immigrants with those permits generally would not be deportable.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
An “Immigrants Are Essential” sign near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Parole status doesn’t include a path to legalization, but does open channels for narrow categories of applicants, including some relatives of U.S. citizens.

The Department of Homeland Security already uses parole for small groups of eligible immigrants, including close relatives of veterans and service members who apply for protection from deportation. A White House official hinted at the approach as an alternative to legalization last month.

Immigration Alternatives Lined Up if Democrats’ ‘Plan B’ Fails

The backup plan comes after the Senate parliamentarian, a staff attorney who interprets complex chamber rules, rejected two proposals to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants. She found the measures amounted to sweeping policy changes that didn’t qualify for the budget reconciliation process Democrats are using to pursue their agenda.

The parole approach doesn’t include a path to permanent status or offer the full slate of related benefits—potentially avoiding key concerns the parliamentarian raised about the broader proposals, policy advocates at the left-leaning Center for American Progress wrote in a recent column.

‘One Step Closer’

Immigrants’ rights activists have signaled openness to the option while still pushing for full-scale legalization measures.

“A lot of it depends on the details of what the parole language would look like, but we are committed to delivering for people this year,” Lorella Praeli, co-president for the advocacy group Community Change, said during a press call this week.

Praeli and other advocates have called on Democrats to disregard the parliamentarian’s ruling if she rejects the latest proposal. That would mean the provision could be subject to an objection on the Senate floor and be removed from the massive social spending package, but members would be required to vote on it to do so.

Securing parole protections would have “an extraordinary impact on many lives across the United States,” Jorge Loweree, policy director for the nonprofit American Immigration Council, told Bloomberg Government.

“And it would get us one step closer, frankly, to the ultimate goal of providing a formal path to legalization,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at; Heather Rothman at

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