Immigration Plans in Flux Amid Broader Delay on Democrats’ Bill

  • Parliamentarian still reviewing provisions, others untested
  • Senate’s self-imposed Christmas deadline in question

A slate of immigration provisions from Democrats’ sweeping tax and social spending bill is bogged down in the Senate, as confusion and frustration mount over the substance and timeline of the package.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Wednesday said he and his colleagues haven’t yet sent all the language to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who advises whether provisions comply with chamber rules.

“We’re working on some of the immigration issues,” he said, in an apparent reference to proposals in the House-passed measure (H.R. 5376) that would address chronic backlogs in the legal system. Democrats pitched the parliamentarian two weeks ago on a separate proposal to secure temporary protection from deportation, known as parole, for some undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democrats aimed to pass the bill by Christmas, but that target is in question as reviews and negotiations continue. At least one senator is weighing backup plans on policy priorities in case the timeline slips.

Senate Democrats Weigh Fallback Plan for Delay on Biden Agenda

Photo: Ellen M. Gilmer/Bloomberg Government
Protestors demonstrate on Capitol Hill on Dec. 7, 2021.

The entire immigration section of the bill is in flux as Democratic leaders await an answer on the parole plan and move slowly on the backlog provisions, which would recapture unused visas and put status adjustments for some immigrants on a fast track.

Democrats sent an informal memo to the parliamentarian last week that addressed legal immigration and new fees included in the House-passed bill, but haven’t gone through any formal proceedings on the issue, according to a Democratic aide.

Hopeful immigrants stuck in green card backlogs have fumed for months on social media and in letters and calls to elected officials about the slow advancement of legal immigration provisions, when compared with senators’ repeated pursuit of protections for undocumented immigrants.

In the Dark

Senate leaders recently tightened their hold on information about exchanges with the parliamentarian, who is now reviewing several other portions of the spending bill involving health care, climate change, and other Democratic priorities.

MacDonough is a staff lawyer advising on whether provisions belong in the budget reconciliation process Democrats are using to pursue their agenda. Under Senate rules, provisions must deal primarily with the federal budget to be included.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) expressed frustration Wednesday that he can’t get a clear answer on the status of immigration provisions and hasn’t been able to review any correspondence between the parliamentarian and Democratic leaders.

“I’ve asked for what was shared with the parliamentarian so I can read it,” he said. “Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I can’t imagine that correspondence does not exist.”

Luján, who’s in his first year as a senator, said playing a supporting role in the negotiations has been an adjustment after previously serving in House leadership. “You’re always trying to do your due diligence and get involved, but at the same time you don’t want to get in the way of those lead negotiators when you feel that they’re going on a good path,” he said in a hallway interview.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) on Tuesday chalked up the overall delays on the sweeping agenda bill to the typically slow legislative process.

“I’ve learned at the federal level, be patient,” she said.

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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