Immigrants Gain Limited Protection, Backlog Help in Budget Bill

  • Bill would give temporary protections, salvage unused visas
  • Senate prospects up in air amid rule-keeping, party divisions

Democrats are inching closer to delivering narrow relief for undocumented immigrants and broader wins for those stuck in backlogs in the legal immigration system.

The immigration provisions included in the sweeping tax and social spending bill (H.R. 5376) the House passed Friday follow intense negotiations and last-minute changes before lawmakers locked in the language earlier this month. Democratic leaders struggled to appease moderates and a trio of lawmakers who pushed for the inclusion of a path to citizenship for the undocumented.

The measure still faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where lawmakers need to ensure it meets Senate rules, resolve a cost discrepancy, and secure support from moderates.

The House-passed language abandons an earlier proposal to create a path to citizenship for some 8 million people. Instead it features a temporary work permit and deportation protection program, known as parole, that Democrats believe has stronger prospects in the Senate.

Around 6.5 million people who’ve been in the U.S. at least a decade would receive parole under the plan, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate. Of those, 2 million immigrants who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible could eventually obtain permanent status as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

“I wanted an initiative that will capture the largest amount of people possible, but that didn’t happen,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) said in a hallway interview this week. “So this is the second best thing.”

BGOV Bill Summary: Modified House Reconciliation Plan

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
A person holds up a sign at a rally calling for changes to immigration law in New York City on Nov. 12, 2021.

Many advocates, while viewing the approach as a significant gain for the undocumented community, expressed profound disappointment that Democrats couldn’t muster support to restore broader protections that were included in earlier versions of the bill.

“A temporary work authorization is not the answer to our prayers,” UndocuBlack Network Executive Director Patrice Lawrence, who is undocumented, said in an interview. “Citizenship was promised to us, not another new temporary program that is going to run into red tape at every turn.”

Parole would be available to eligible applicants who entered the U.S. with or without inspection by U.S. border officials before 2011, as well as for immigrants who already have separate humanitarian parole status. Work permits and deportation protections would last for five years and could be renewed until the program expires in 2031.

Citizenship

A push by Reps. Espaillat, Jesús ‘Chuy’ García (D-Ill.), and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) to include a citizenship provision known as registry came up short earlier this month, with some Democrats reluctant to vote on language that might be doomed in the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured the trio she will make immigration overhaul a priority after passage of the Democratic agenda bill. Correa said it was a “hard calculus” to agree to support parole language instead of continuing to insist on broader language that faced tougher odds in the Senate.

“What got me and my colleagues to at least consider this plan is, it’s so uncertain,” he told Bloomberg Government. “Sometimes you’d rather get a half of loaf than no loaf at all.”

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Some House Democrats are holding out hope that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will add in registry language once the bill moves to that chamber. “The ball is in their court,” Espaillat said.

The Senate parliamentarian has already informally advised lawmakers that the registry proposal was too policy-oriented to be included in the budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to pass on a simple majority vote in the Senate but requires provisions to be primarily budget-related.

The parliamentarian has yet to determine whether the provisions that were included in the House bill meet the standard. Senate Democrats have expressed optimism that the parole option will pass muster and say they plan to pursue other, unspecified immigration provisions even if it doesn’t.

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The Senate also will have to address a discrepancy between the estimated cost of the immigration portion of the bill and the amount allocated for it.

Legal System

Immigrants and advocates focused on the legal immigration system, meanwhile, celebrated the House-passed bill’s sweeping provisions to address green card backlogs.

The bill would recapture unused family and employment-based visas back to 1992, and allow some foreigners to fast-track applications to adjust to legal permanent resident status and sidestep some numerical limits on visas, including per-country caps that have left hundreds of thousands of Indians in limbo.

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The bill would also allow diversity visa lottery winners who couldn’t finalize their status or enter the U.S. due to Covid-19 or Trump-era immigration restrictions to reapply. It would provide $2.8 billion to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process parole and green card applications.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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