Senate parliamentarian again blocks legalizing immigrants in budget bill

The top Senate official tasked with interpreting the chamber’s rules blocked Democrats’ second bid to legalize undocumented immigrants through a budget bill on Wednesday, dealing another blow to Democratic efforts to create a massive legalization program without Republican support, according to guidance obtained by CBS News.

Earlier this month, Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, said a Democratic plan to allow an estimated 8 million immigrants in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal status could not be included in the reconciliation process, which bypasses the 60-vote threshold most bills need to pass the Senate.

Elements included in the budget reconciliation process, which allows bills to pass with a simple majority of senators, need to have a direct impact on the U.S. budget. The fate of the reconciliation package remains uncertain, as moderate and progressive Democrats continue to negotiate the size and scope of the legislation.

The earlier plan — which would have benefited undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, those with temporary humanitarian status, farmworkers and other pandemic-era essential workers — would represent a “tremendous and enduring policy change,” MacDonough ruled on September 20.

After that setback, Democrats presented the parliamentarian with a different argument. They proposed changing the date on an immigration law known as the registry, which allows immigrants who were in the U.S. before a specified date to apply for green cards. The registry date is currently 1972, rendering it largely obsolete.

In a four-sentence guidance on Wednesday, MacDonough said the registry proposal was also a “weighty policy change” and “largely the same” as the previous plan.

“The change in status to [lawful permanent status] remains a life-long change in circumstances the value of which vastly outweighs its budgetary impact,” the guidance said, noting that the registry plan would benefit many of the same immigrants as the first proposal.

The latest guidance from the parliamentarian is another setback for Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates, many of whom view the budget reconciliation process as the only possible avenue to place many of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants on a pathway to permanent U.S status.

Republicans in the Senate, including those who have previously supported bills that included a legalization program, have rallied against the Democrats’ plan. 

Democratic Senate aides, however, said on Wednesday they still have other proposals they could present to the parliamentarian.

“We have prepared for different scenarios,” one Democratic aide said.  “We’re not done here.”