The Senate parliamentarian is planning to hear dueling arguments Friday over whether Democrats can include a pathway to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants in their $3.5 trillion social spending plan, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
A final decision from the chamber’s nonpartisan rules referee is not expected imminently, but the arguments come as the Senate prepares to return from recess next week and assemble the massive bill. With bipartisan talks stalled, Democrats largely view the so-called reconciliation process, which allows them to pass legislation without Republican support and bypass a filibuster in the Senate, as their best opportunity to enact immigration reform this Congress.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is taking the lead on crafting the immigration provisions of the bill. But it's far from certain that the Senate parliamentarian would rule in favor of including them.
Democrats will need to prove to the parliamentarian, a former immigration lawyer, that the proposal satisfies Senate budget requirements, such as demonstrating an impact on federal spending, revenues or the debt. Democrats are discussing including a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders, farmworkers and other immigrants deemed essential workers in the pandemic.
The parliamentarian has ruled against Democratic priorities before. Earlier this year, she rejected the party's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in their $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.
In addition to wanting to fulfill a key campaign promise, Democrats say that the need for the legislation coincides with the fate of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remaining in legal limbo. In July, a federal judge in Texas ruled the program was unlawful and blocked the Biden administration from approving new applications.
Democrats also argue there is some precedent for including immigration reform in a reconciliation package, highlighting GOP-led legislation from 2005 that included a provision related to the backlog of visas.
Sabrina Rodriguez contributed to this report.
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