House Democrats last month passed legislation that will protect millions of immigrants from deportation for the first time in more than 35 years.
The immigration regulations – part of a $ 1.85 trillion social spending bill – likely represent the last chance for Democrats to reform the country’s immigration system before the 2022 midterm elections. After that, if Republicans win a majority in Congress, the likelihood of any protection for immigrants is likely to drop exponentially.
The measures now face a tough battle in the Senate, which is expected to pass the bill this month, and a Senate deputy could overturn them long before that. In addition, immigrant advocates disagree with regulations granting work permits to the nearly 7 million immigrants living in the country without a permit. Protection will provide a temporary respite from deportation, but not a path to citizenship.
Some immigrants and their allies say these provisions are a badly needed start, while others call them unacceptable, a controversy that echoes a long debate over whether immigrants should respect some immediate protection from deportation or strive for permanent legal status.
The bill, dubbed the “Build Back Better” by Democrats, will also help legally resident immigrants stuck in decades of green card accumulation and augment the cash-strapped Federal Citizenship and Immigration Agency.
Gabriel Valladolid, 47, said important workers like him deserve a path to citizenship. But Valladolid, who works tomato fields in San Joaquin, California, is keen to visit two grown children in Mexico he hasn’t seen in 17 years.
He recalled when California lawmakers extended driver’s licenses to undocumented residents, and some people complained that they could not be used for air travel and were labeled differently than regular licenses. Valladolid said licenses are better than nothing – immigrants are used to having their cars confiscated at every stop. He feels the same now.
“Everything they want to give us,” Valladolid said. “BBB is a good start. Come on, but now.“We want it now.
The centerpiece of the bill’s immigration provisions gives skilled immigrants residing in the United States since January 2011 are able to apply for a temporary work permit and protection from deportation through a procedure called parole.
According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, almost 60% of immigrants in the country without permission will be eligible for protection – about 6.5 million people. Work permits will be valid for five years and can be renewed once, extending protection until 2031. Those who qualify can also access federal benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid, and get permission to travel outside the country.
The CBO estimates that about 3 million of these immigrants are the immediate family of adult US citizens and may end up applying for a green card after receiving parole.
The legislation also aims to modernize the system to better reflect current immigration trends. This will expand processing options, adding $ 2.8 billion to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. And that would allow the agency to “return” hundreds of thousands of visas that have not been used every year since 1992 due to administrative difficulties, helping more than 5 million immigrants – mostly from India – who are stuck in line for a green card.
The position of a parliamentarian
The non-partisan CBO said the bill as a whole would increase the deficit by $ 160 billion over ten years. The White House estimates that the law will cut the deficit.
To pass legislation through the Senate, Democrats use a procedure called conciliation, which allows them to pass legislation with 50 votes, plus a vice president’s majority vote. But the process requires all measures to be directly linked to the federal budget.
Member of Parliament Elizabeth McDonough determines whether a policy stands up to scrutiny. Democratic Senate aides met with McDonough Nov.23 to discuss a work permit plan, and she did not immediately rule it out, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
McDonough will then formally assess whether the plan complies with the so-called Byrd Rule, which requires the effect of the law on government spending or revenues to outweigh any “extraneous” policy changes. This assessment could happen this week.
This is the third attempt by Senate Democrats to add immigrant protection to the bill. MacDonough rejected the previous two.
The first offered a path to citizenship for certain immigrants without legal status, including those brought into the country as children, temporary protection status holders, agricultural workers, and other important workers.
The second goal is to allow immigrants who entered the country before 2010 to obtain a residence permit if they do not currently have legal status.
“Changing the law to clear the way for [lawful permanent resident] status is a colossal and enduring policy change that overshadows its budgetary implications, ”McDonough wrote about the first proposal.
‘Permanent lower class’
Democrats Lu Correa of Santa Ana, Adriano Espailat of New York, and Jesus “Chui” Garcia of Illinois have bet on a broader immigration bill and have advocated the inclusion of citizenship. These lawmakers signed a letter along with dozens of others urging Senate leaders to ignore McDonough’s views, but the effort has not enjoyed widespread support.
If Democrats hope that failed attempts will appease defenders, they may be disappointed. Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, or the Los Angeles-based Coalition for the Humane Rights of Immigrants, said anything less than a path to citizenship was unacceptable.
Salas said the granting of work permits will send millions of people on the same roller coasters faced by those with Temporary Protection and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) protection. Both programs, run by the executive branch, have been canceled by the Trump administration, but legal battles have retained their defenses.
“This is just about the Democrats,” she said. “If they can’t fight for citizenship in Build Back Better, tell me how they will fight for our people after that, and try to say that we will go through a different process that depends on the Republicans?” They cannot fool our community again. I don’t want to be satisfied with such low expectations. ”
But Giev Kashkuli, director of political and legislative affairs at United Farm Workers, called the current immigration package substantial. The ability for millions of immigrants to work legally, visit family members from whom they have been separated for decades, and for some gain access to citizenship through direct family members – US citizens – all represent a significant step forward, he said.
“This is the least that the women and men who feed us deserve. But they are significant – people do not have them now, ”he said.
Kashkuli said that immigration victories have always been difficult. He pointed to 2012, when President Obama announced the creation of the DACA, and the following year, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a comprehensive 15-vote Republican immigration reform bill that ultimately failed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“Winning a breakout, even if you lack what you won before, doesn’t mean you can’t build on that breakout,” he said.
But Patrice Lawrence, co-director of UndocuBlack, argued that it was unrealistic to accept the current plan and advocate for a more permanent solution later.
“What worries me the most is that we will create a permanent lower class of people without papers, and they will be locked up in this lower class for a long time,” Lawrence said. “The window for action by Congress is very small. The package for reconciliation is this because next year will be an election year and other things are becoming more relevant. “
Times staff columnist Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.