Dec 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats eye last-ditch effort to pass pathways to citizenship

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- New York) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), head to the Senate Chamber after speaking to reporters at the US Capitol
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Democrats are eyeing a way to overrule the Senate parliamentarian and provide pathways to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants — but it will depend on the caucus, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), sticking together.

Why it matters: Providing protections for undocumented immigrants has been a central focus for Congressional Democrats. Failing could cost some needed political points heading into what are expected to be brutal midterm elections.

  • Next steps are expected to be discussed in a special caucus lunch on Friday, according to a Senate aide.
  • Democrats will ultimately need 50 votes to include pathways to citizenship in the $1.75 trillion "human" infrastructure package.
  • Two earlier proposals including pathways to citizenship failed the Byrd rule, which requires provisions to be primarily budget-related to be passed through the reconciliation process.

What they're saying: Following a third rejection from the Senate rules referee on Thursday night, Senate Democratic leaders issued a statement, hinting at an attempt to go around the parliamentarian.

  • "[W]e will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act,” they said.

What we're watching: A final plan has not been decided on. But pro-immigration advocates are hoping Democrats take advantage of the opportunity and Senate rules to get pathways to citizenship done.

  • Other potential options include watering down the immigration provisions even further to get it past the parliamentarian and into the package through an amendment.
  • The latest rejected proposal did not include pathways to citizenship, but deportation protections and work permits for millions of undocumented immigrants.
  • If Democrats decide to side-step the parliamentarian, advocates involved expect they will look at full pathways to citizenship by changing the immigrant registry date — the "plan B" option which was also rejected.

Between the lines: It would be a long and complicated process with an initial vote requiring 41 Senate Democrats to agree to overrule the Senate parliamentarian.

  • That would need to be followed by a vote on the inclusion of any immigration provision, which would require a simple majority.

The big picture: Even if Democrats manage to get enough support to overrule the parliamentarian, the pathways to citizenship would still rely on Manchin's ultimate support of the roughly $1.75 trillion "human" infrastructure package.

  • Concerns from Manchin have forced Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to delay bringing the bill to the floor until next year.
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