By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democrats have launched a bitter fight to save their will to help millions of immigrants stay legally in the United States, their path unclear and uncertainty exposing tensions between party leaders and progressive groups demanding bold results.
Lawmakers and rights organizations said on Monday they were already considering new options, a day after the Senate parliamentarian said their sweeping proposal was to move from a $ 3.5 trillion measure that is being protected against murderous Republican obstructions. But it seemed highly likely that Democrats would have to win their measure in helping less than the 8 million immigrants they envisioned, and even then they faced a daunting prospect of winning.
Non-partisan MP Elizabeth MacDonough’s decision was a blow because without procedural protections, Senate Democrats at 50-50 lack the 60 votes needed to end these GOP delays and approve legislation on immigration.
“It saddened me, it frustrated me, it angered me,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told reporters of MacDonough’s decision. “But make no mistake, the fight continues.”
Democrats and outside groups have said their potential options include reducing the number of people affected or the degree of legal protection they will enjoy, or changing the dates of existing laws that control how many immigrants already here can stay.
Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., a leading advocate for immigration, said his party was considering an effort to legalize “in a different context” of the filibuster protected bill. He also said they might be looking for a type of status that “doesn’t necessarily provide a path to legalization.” He did not provide any details for either remark.
No Democrat has said he is ready to give up, stressing how their decades-long effort to provide legal status to immigrants is so important to many party voters that politicians dare not seem to give up. .
âIt really doesn’t mean this process is over,â Menendez said. He said Democrats would explore “all available options” and continue to work with MacDonough “until we get a yes” from him.
The provisions Democrats rejected would open multi-year doors to legal permanent residence, and possibly citizenship, for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, often referred to as “dreamers.” It would also cover immigrants with temporary protection status who fled countries hit by natural disasters or extreme violence, essential workers and agricultural workers.
Under the special budget rules Democrats use to protect their 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion bill, provisions cannot be included if their fiscal impact is outweighed by the scale of the policies they would impose.
MacDonough left no doubt about his point, writing in a note to lawmakers that the Democrats’ plan to grant immigrants permanent residence “is a huge and lasting policy change that overshadows its fiscal impact.”
Doris Meissner, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton, said MacDonough’s opinion seemed to leave little room for Democrats to include major immigration provisions in the bill $ 3.5 trillion over 10 years, which funds dramatic changes in social protection and environmental programs. .
“It seems to me that this is just an effort to be able to say politically that they have tried everything they can try,” Meissner, now a senior researcher at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, said of the wishes of the Democrats to plow. before.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden remains “absolutely committed to building a path to citizenship” and supported senators offering alternatives, but warned: “We do not control not the result of the parliamentary process “.
Some progressives have complained that with Democrats controlling the White House, Senate and House this year, the party must push even harder to achieve its political goals. Pragmatists responded that despite Democratic control by both branches of government, their influence is slim because the margins in Congress are very slim – an equally divided Senate and House where Democrats can only win if they lose three votes or less. .
A conference call with journalists illustrated these tensions.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of progressive United We Dream Action, said groups would decide which candidates to support in the next election based “not on how hard the Democrats tried or how they got along. beaten, but their success or not “.
Another lawyer has apparently suggested that Senate Democrats should fire MacDonough if she does not allow their immigration language. “If at the end of the day they have exhausted all options and the parliamentarian is a ‘no’ she is not an elected one,” said Lorella Praeli, co-chair of Community Change Action, a progressive group.
Menendez said on the same call that he understood the defenders’ “point of view and their passion”, but questioned whether MacDonough’s dismissal would be “constructive”. He suggested that Schumer might not have the 51 Senate votes he would need to do so.
When asked separately whether Democrats should just vote to ignore MacDonough’s decision, Senate Democratic Leader No.2 Richard Durbin of Illinois told reporters: âI don’t think that’s realistic. . I think the necessary votes on the ground are not there. “
MacDonough was appointed when the chamber was Democrat-controlled nine years ago.
An alternative being discussed among Democrats would be to update the so-called registration date in existing law that allows previously arrived migrants who meet other conditions to become permanent residents.
The current recording date – January 1, 1972 – has not been adjusted since 1986, underscoring the resistance this fix has faced before. Between 2.8 million and 8 million people could be helped if lawmakers followed past practices and set a new date eight to 18 years before the enactment date, the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute said.
Another option would be to revise a now obsolete law, called Section 245i, which had allowed some migrants already in the United States on a certain date to apply for permanent residence if they are sponsored by a relative or employer and pay a fee. fine. Without it, people would have to file their claims with US consulates in other countries.
Currently, this exemption covers immigrants to the United States before December 21, 2000 and for whom a sponsor applied before April 30, 2001, so that it effectively no longer helps people.
Associated Press editors Padmananda Rama and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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