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

  • Multiple options on the table, White House official says
  • House Judiciary Committee staff working on new language

Democrats are weighing substitute immigration measures that don’t offer permanent residence in a sweeping social spending package if their latest preferred back-up plan falls short.

Senate leaders, strategizing after a Senate rules official last week rejected their initial proposal to offer a broad legalization path for millions of immigrants, are already looking at updating a registry provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow some foreigners in the U.S. to apply for green cards and gain protection from deportation.

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“If not that, then other options that don’t provide permanent residence but do provide employment authorization and protection from removal for various categories” of people are on the table, said Esther Olavarria, deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

Olavarria discussed the talks with Democrats in Congress Tuesday at an immigration policy conference. She didn’t provide details about the various Plan B and Plan C options in consideration but said White House officials and lawmakers are looking at “any and every possibility.”

Democrats are scrambling to determine how to advance immigration measures after the Senate parliamentarian said a proposal to legalize undocumented residents brought to the U.S. as children, essential workers, and other immigrants didn’t comport with the chamber’s rules for the partisan legislative process.

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Under budget reconciliation, which requires all provisions to relate to government spending, legislation can pass in the Senate on a simple majority.

“As of right now, all of our eggs, all of our effort is in the reconciliation process,” Olavarria said.

Senate Democrats are floating back-up proposals with the parliamentarian, including an update to the immigration registry cutoff date, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the registry measure is “our preferred option.”

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“But we are having conversations with all of the advocacy groups to make sure we’re on the same page as to what the next option we explore is,” Menendez told Bloomberg Government in a hallway interview Tuesday.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), is among the members of Congress trying to find a way to add immigration provisions to a sweeping spending package.

House Judiciary Committee staffers are also working on narrower immigration language to put forth, Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.

“We’re trying to figure out language that can survive the parliamentarian,” Nadler said. “Whether we get it, I don’t know.”

Outside groups are pressuring lawmakers to overrule the parliamentarian or replace her if that’s what it takes to advance immigration measures in reconciliation.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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