Democrats have dealt a blow to immigration plans

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WASHINGTON – The Senate parliamentarian on Sunday inflicted a major setback on Democrats’ plan to use their $ 3.5 trillion social policy bill to pave the way for citizenship for an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Member of Parliament for the Senate, who serves as the chamber’s arbiter of its own rules, wrote that “the policy changes in this proposal far exceed the budgetary impact attributed to it and that it does not is not appropriate to include him in the reconciliation, “according to a copy of his ruling obtained by The New York Times.

Democrats sought to grant legal status to undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers; immigrants who have been granted temporary protection status for humanitarian reasons; nearly a million agricultural workers; and millions more who are considered “essential workers”.

Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants would have been eligible to become U.S. citizens if they had passed their background and health checks and paid a fee of $ 1,500, among other requirements. The plan would also have recovered at least 226,000 visas that had not been used in previous years, due to “Covid-19 or bureaucratic delay”, allowing the issuance of more visas.

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Democrats were hoping to include the immigration overhaul in their broad legislation to expand the social safety net, which they plan to strengthen in a fast-track process known as reconciliation that protects it from Republican obstruction. . This would test the limits of Senate rules, which require that any measure included in a reconciliation bill have a direct impact on federal spending and revenues.

Ms MacDonough’s decisions are merely advisory, but several Democratic senators have indicated they would be reluctant to overturn it. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The budgetary cost of changes to the immigration law – which affect health care benefits, Medicaid spending and tax credits – exceeds $ 139 billion over 10 years, according to preliminary figures from the Congressional Budget Office. Democrats estimate the legalization campaign would add $ 1.5 trillion to the US economy over the next decade, creating more than 400,000 jobs.

Republicans argue that the immigration overhaul is only tangentially tied to the budget.

“The reasons people risk their lives to come to this country – to escape religious and political persecution, famine, war, unspeakable violence and lack of opportunity in their home country – do cannot be measured in federal dollars, ”the parliamentarian wrote.

She argued that “changing the law to pave the way” for the legal status of millions of undocumented immigrants is “a huge and lasting policy change that overshadows its fiscal impact.”

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Immigration advocates have prepared back-up plans in case the parliamentarian does not vote in their favor, including a plan to update the immigration register, a process for immigrants to become lawful permanent residents based on their long-standing presence in the country.

Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, said immigration advocates will not give up trying to change the law.

“This is not the end of the process,” she said in a statement. “As we have said before, this is not an isolated case. We always knew that it would be a back and forth where we would have to present several options. What we do know is true: A path to permanent residence and citizenship has a big fiscal impact, great bipartisan support, and most of all, it is essential to America’s recovery.