On September 20, 2021, the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rejected Democrats’ effort to include immigration reforms that offered a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented individuals as part of their 10-year, $3.5 trillion spending bill.
She said the proposed immigration reforms are considered major policy changes that cannot be approved through reconciliation—which is a legislative process only meant to address only budget-related issues—because the implications of such changes significantly outweigh the impact on the budget plan.
The parliamentarian also rejected arguments from Democrats that the 2005 GOP-led reconciliation bill involved including immigration provisions in a budget plan to address a visa backlog. She disputed that the 2005 bill was backed by bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans, and it did not address legal immigration status.
The Democrats were hoping to pass immigration reforms through the $3.5 trillion social policy package they passed in August. The reconciliation process allows the party to pass the bill with only 50 votes and the vice president’s tie-breaking vote without being subject to Republican filibusters.
The following are the immigration provisions the Democrats fought to include in the spending bill:
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients or Dreamers who have been continuously living in the United States since January 1, 2021, and either earned a consistent income for three years, graduated from a college or vocational school, or honorably served in the military can apply for legal permanent residency (or a green card) after paying a $1,500 fee, as well as passing background and medical checks.
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries who have been in the U.S. for at least three years, had been qualified for TPS on January 1, 2017, and are not otherwise ineligible for TPS can apply for a green card after paying a $1,500 fee, as well as passing background and medical checks.
- Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients who have been in the U.S. for at least three years, were eligible for DED as of January 20, 2021, and not otherwise ineligible for TPS can apply for a green card after paying a $1,500 fee, as well as passing background and medical checks.
- Essential workers (e.g., agriculture and food, healthcare, logistics and transportation, information technology systems, water, energy, etc.) who have been in the U.S. since January 1, 2021, and provide proof of consistently earned income can apply for a green card after paying a $1,500 fee, as well as passing background and medical checks.
- Family-based green card applicants whose priority date is more than two years old could apply to adjust their status after paying a fee of $2,500.
- Employment-based green card applicants whose priority date is more than two years old could also apply to adjust their status after paying a fee of $5,000.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats prepared alternate proposals and will have meetings with the parliamentarian in the next few days. One of those proposals include a change in existing law—called “existing registry” that allows certain undocumented individuals who have been living in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, to obtain a green card—to make more people eligible for legal permanent residency.