San Francisco Chronicle

Dems’ reform drive suffers big blow

- By Alan Fram Alan Fram is an Associated Press writer.

WASHINGTON — Democrats can’t use their $3.5 trillion package bolstering social and climate programs to give millions of immigrants a chance to become citizens, the Senate’s parliament­arian said late Sunday, a crushing blow to what was the party’s clearest pathway in years to attaining the long-sought goal.

The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisa­n interprete­r of its often enigmatic rules, is a dishearten­ing setback for President Biden, congressio­nal Democrats and their allies in the proimmigra­tion and progressiv­e communitie­s. It badly damages Democrats’ hopes of unilateral­ly enacting — over Republican opposition — changes letting several categories of immigrants gain permanent residence and possibly citizenshi­p.

MacDonough’s decision was described by a person informed about the ruling who shared it on condition of anonymity.

The parliament­arian decided that the immigratio­n language could not be included in an immense bill that’s been shielded from GOP filibuster­s. Left vulnerable to those bill-killing delays, which require 60 Senate votes to defuse, the immigratio­n provisions have virtually no chance in the 50-50 Senate.

MacDonough rejected Democratic language that would have opened a doorway to citizenshi­p for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, often called “Dreamers”; immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who’ve fled countries stricken by natural disasters or extreme violence; essential workers; and farm workers.

Democrats and their immigratio­n allies have said they will offer alternativ­e approaches to MacDonough that would open a doorway to permanent status to at least some immigrants. One such approach would be to update a “registry” date that allows some immigrants in the U.S. by that time to become permanent residents if they meet certain conditions, but it was unclear if they would pursue that option or how the parliament­arian would rule.

Under the special process Democrats are using to shield the overall bill from a filibuster, language in such legislatio­n is considered “extraneous” and is supposed to be removed if its budget impact is “merely incidental” to the provision’s overall policies. MacDonough said the budget impact of Democrats’ immigratio­n proposal was outweighed by the policy impact it would have.

Democrats and a handful of GOP allies have made halting progress during the past two decades toward legislatio­n that would help millions of immigrants gain permanent legal status in the U.S. Ultimately, they’ve been thwarted each time by broad Republican opposition.

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