Senate Democrats likely will not be able to include a pathway to legalization for millions of immigrants in their $3.5 trillion bill to expand the country’s social safety net after new guidance from the Senate parliamentarian Sunday night.
The decision comes as a resounding rebuke to Democrats, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. While it’s incredibly hard to overrule such a decision, one Democratic source noted they might try narrowing the policy to include some sort of immigration provision in the bill, but the chances remain slim.
The effort to include immigration in their economic agenda bill, although it has faced long odds, has stood as one of the last clear opportunities for Democrats to pass substantial immigration reform in President Joe Biden’s first year in office.
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough wrote in her ruling, “Changing the law to clear the way to (Legal Permanent Resident) status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.”
In a key meeting with MacDonough earlier this month, Senate Democrats made their case to include a path to legalization for millions of immigrants in the massive economic bill. Democrats argued their plan to give roughly 8 million immigrants an opportunity to apply for green cards in the country would have a major economic impact – a pitch they hoped would convince her to allow them to include it in a complicated budget process known as reconciliation. That process would allow Democrats, who lack the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome the filibuster, to pass the bill with only Democratic votes.
In a statement after the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues. Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Alex Padilla of California, the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, expressed similar disappointment in a statement, also alluding to a forthcoming alternate proposal.
During the meeting with the parliamentarian earlier this month, Democratic aides had argued allowing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, people with Temporary Protected Status, farm workers and other essential workers to apply for Legal Permanent Residency would make them eligible for social programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other health benefits, sources told CNN. That eligibility, aides estimated, would add $139 billion to the deficit.
Democrats had also cited a narrower immigration law change that was made in 2005 in a reconciliation bill that allowed the recapturing of previously unused employment immigrant visas. That bill passed the Senate in 2005 but stalled in the House.
While the White House has argued immigration is a top priority, Senate Democrats lack the votes to pass legislation on their own. In the House, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had acknowledged that reconciliation provided the clearest path forward.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.