Parliamentarian's latest ruling is a new setback on immigration reform

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Saturday, December 18, 2021 - 8:32am
Updated: Saturday, December 18, 2021 - 8:33am

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DACA protest U.S. Capitol
Protesters march past the U.S. Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2017.

This week, the parliamentarian for the U.S. Senate shot down yet another immigration reform measure Congressional Democrats hoped to pass through the budget reconciliation process.

Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has assessed several immigration provisions put forth by Democrats to rule whether their impact on the federal budget would be significant enough to allow their inclusion in the reconciliation process.  

So far, every proposal has been rejected. The latest would have made some 6.5 million undocumented immigrants eligible for five-year work permits and protection from deportation. Jose Patiño with the immigrant advocacy group Aliento says many are in essential jobs. 

“My labor, my sweat, my tears are supporting this country being able to run,” he said of essential workers. “It seems like the Congress is going to say, ‘no, we don’t care, thank you for your service, thank you for your service, but we don’t want to provide protections for you.’” 

Patiño says especially now, as the pandemic drags on, undocumented immigrants in agriculture and other frontline jobs face higher risk and no safety net. This latest provision would have offered reprieve. 

“Just a work permit, an ability to work here, without fear of deportation, and it feels like even that’s too much,” he said. “It's just hard.”

As a DACA recipient, Patiño’s own future is also on the line with this provision. The Obama-era program, which gave temporary protection from deportation and a work permit to some 850,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, has been in legal limbo for years. Most recently, earlier this year, a federal judge in Texas ruled the policy illegal and blocked new would-be applicants from pursuing the status.

The parliamentarian is a non-partisan, non-elected Senate rule maker whose decisions Democrats could move to overrule to pass immigration and other measures. But lawmakers have not said whether they'll consider that option next. 

Patiño says while the latest rejection wasn’t exactly a surprise, it’s another blow in a long line of disappointments.