WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pressure from advocacy groups grows as Senate rules make it harder for Democrats to keep their promise of sweeping immigration reform in a massive spending bill the party spent months crafting.
Moments after Pres. Joe Biden announced a deal had been reached on a framework for his sweeping domestic agenda to help families and the environment, Wisconsin-based immigration advocacy group Voces de la Frontera rallied outside of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. office in Milwaukee demanding more.
“This is really the end of the line for the Democratic Party in terms of chances to deliver on the promise of immigration reform,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.
Included in Biden’s $1.85 Trillion Build Back Better framework, $100 Billion to “improve and reform our broken immigration system consistent with the Senate’s reconciliation rules.” What that means policy-wise still hasn’t been spelled out.
“I know that we have now taken three different approaches to try to include provisions to create greater opportunities for immigrants,” said Sen. Baldwin. “And we're determined to do everything we can to use the Build Back Better Budget to do so.”
Biden wants to use a process known as “reconciliation” to pass the broad agenda. It allows legislation to be approved by a simple majority, sidestepping a filibuster. But there are rules enforced by the Senate parliamentarian about what can be in the bill.
“They have to worry about the reconciliation rules and how the parliamentarian’s going to rule about what can be included, how those are offset and how you fiscally count for incoming dollars versus outgoing expenditures,” said Dr. Casey Burgat, Legislative Affairs program director at George Washington University.
It is unclear if the parliamentarian will allow immigration reform to be included.
“There's a longstanding history of deferring to the ruling of the parliamentarian,” said Burgat. “But that, just like a lot of things within the Senate, is a tradition. That's a custom. That’s a norm. And it's definitely not a binding ruling no matter what she rules on — on any piece of legislation, immigration included.”
Neumann-Ortiz said her organization spoke with Sen. Baldwin after the rally. She asked the senator to commit to disregarding the parliamentarian’s ruling if it doesn’t allow for a pathway to citizenship proposal to be included in the framework.
“If the parliamentarian comes back and said we can't even do some kind of temporary work status, then that's like, you have a tea kettle on the stove and you've just now turned up the heat,” she said. “Without a doubt, that’s the sentiment that's out there.”
But it’s unlikely Democrats will have the numbers to buck this norm considering there are at least two within the party who still have concerns about the massive legislative package.
“I think it is an indictment of the larger Democratic Party if we don't see stronger leadership from the top to champion what the majority of people support across this country,” said Neumann-Ortiz.
It’s still unclear what immigration provisions will be included but experts believe the parliamentarian will limit any that involve major policy changes.