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Dems Face Uphill Immigration Path      09/21 06:16


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Democrats launched an uphill fight to rescue their 
drive to help millions of immigrants remain legally in the U.S., their pathway 
unclear and the uncertainty exposing tensions between party leaders and 
progressive groups demanding bold results.

   Lawmakers and advocacy organizations said Monday they were already weighing 
fresh options, a day after the Senate parliamentarian said their sweeping 
proposal must fall from a $3.5 trillion measure that's shielded against 
bill-killing Republican filibusters. But it seemed strongly likely that 
Democrats might have to winnow their measure to help fewer than the 8 million 
immigrants they envisioned, and even then faced daunting prospects to prevail.

   The ruling by the nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, was a 
jarring blow because without the procedural protections, Democrats in the 50-50 
Senate lack the 60 votes required to end those GOP delays and approve 
immigration legislation.

   "It saddened me, it frustrated me, it angered me," Senate Majority Leader 
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters about MacDonough's ruling. "But make no 
mistake, the fight continues."

   Democrats and outside groups said their potential options included narrowing 
the number of people affected or the degree of legal protection they would 
receive, or tinkering with dates in existing laws that have controlled how many 
immigrants already here can stay.

   Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a leading pro-immigration advocate, said his 
party was considering a legalization effort "in a different context" from the 
filibuster-protected bill. He also said they might pursue a type of status that 
"does not necessarily provide a pathway to legalization." He provided no detail 
for either remark.

   No Democrats said they were ready to give up, underscoring how their 
decades-long push to provide legal status to immigrants is so important to many 
party voters that politicians don't dare to appear to abandon it.

   "This really doesn't mean that this process is over," Menendez said. He said 
Democrats would explore "every option available" and keep working with 
MacDonough "until we get to a yes" from her.

   Democrats' rejected provisions would open multiyear doorways to legal 
permanent residence, and perhaps citizenship, for young immigrants brought 
illegally to the country as children, often called "Dreamers." It would also 
cover immigrants with Temporary Protected Status who've fled countries stricken 
by natural disasters or extreme violence, essential workers and farm workers.

   Under special budget rules Democrats are using to protect their 10-year, 
$3.5 trillion bill, provisions cannot be included if their budget impact is 
outweighed by the magnitude of the policies they would impose.

   MacDonough left no doubt about her view, writing in a memo to lawmakers that 
Democrats' plan to grant permanent residence to immigrants "is tremendous and 
enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact."

   Doris Meissner, who led the Immigration and Naturalization Service under 
President Bill Clinton, said MacDonough's opinion seemed to leave little room 
for Democrats to include major immigration provisions in the 10-year $3.5 
trillion bill, which funds dramatic changes in social safety net and 
environment programs.

   "It seems to me that this is just really an effort to be able to say 
politically that they've tried everything that they can try," Meissner, now a 
senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said of Democrats' 
vows to plow ahead.

   White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden remains 
"absolutely committed to putting in place a pathway to citizenship" and 
supports senators offering alternatives but cautioned, "We don't control the 
outcome of the parliamentarian process."

   Some progressives have complained that with Democrats controlling the White 
House, Senate and House this year, the party must push ever harder for its 
policy goals. Pragmatists have responded that despite Democratic control of 
both branches of government, their clout is tenuous because margins in Congress 
are wafer thin -- an evenly divided Senate and a House where Democrats can win 
only if they lose three votes or fewer.

   A conference call with reporters illustrated those strains.

   Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of the progressive United We Dream 
Action, said groups will decide which candidates to support in upcoming 
elections based on "not how hard the Democrats tried or how they went down 
fighting, but whether or not they delivered."

   Another advocate seemingly suggested that Senate Democrats should fire 
MacDonough if she doesn't allow their immigration language. "If at the end of 
the day they've exhausted every option and the parliamentarian is a 'no,' she 
is not an elected official," said Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community 
Change Action, a progressive group.

   Menendez said during that same call that he understands advocates' "view and 
their passion" but challenged whether firing MacDonough would be 
"constructive." He suggested Schumer might not have the 51 Senate votes he 
would need to do that.

   Asked separately if Democrats should simply vote to ignore MacDonough's 
ruling, No. 2 Senate Democratic Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois told 
reporters, "I don't believe that's realistic. I think the votes needed on the 
floor are not there."

   MacDonough was appointed when the chamber was controlled by Democrats nine 
years ago.

   One alternative discussed among Democrats would involve updating the 
so-called registry date in existing law that lets migrants who arrived 
previously, and meet other conditions, become permanent residents.

   The current registry date -- Jan. 1, 1972 -- hasn't been adjusted since 
1986, underscoring the resistance this fix has faced before. From 2.8 million 
to 8 million people could be helped if lawmakers follow past practice and set a 
new date eight to 18 years before the date of enactment, the nonpartisan 
Migration Policy Institute has estimated.

   Another option would revise a now outdated law, called section 245i, that 
had let certain migrants already in the U.S. by a certain date apply for 
permanent residence if they're sponsored by a relative or employer and pay a 
fine. Without that, people had to file their applications at U.S. consulates in 
other countries.

   Currently, that waiver covers immigrants in the U.S. by Dec. 21, 2000, and 
for whom a sponsor filed an application by April 30, 2001, so it effectively no 
longer helps people.

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