Dems trying to include help for immigrants in Biden plan

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., appears at a news conference following a Democratic strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats were preparing to try letting millions of immigrants stay temporarily in the U.S. as part of the party's massive economic plan, people involved in the effort said Thursday, as the White House released an outline of President Joe Biden's trophy domestic legislation.

While that effort's odds of succeeding were unclear, supporters were celebrating Biden's inclusion of $100 billion for immigration programs in his pared-down framework. Yet there was also confusion over the immigration money's prospects.

Helping immigrants has long been a major goal for progressive Democrats. That is not lost on the White House and party leaders laboring to corral the near-unanimous Democratic support they'll need to push Biden's long-stalled economic package through Congress.

For the third time this year, Democrats were planning to ask the Senate parliamentarian whether language helping millions of migrants could be inserted into their social and environmental measure. It would let migrants who arrived in the U.S. before 2011 and who lack permanent legal status apply for a permit letting them stay and work for five years.

The permit could be renewed for a second five years and would protect them from deportation and also potentially let them travel abroad. It would not establish a new way for them to gain legal permanent residency or citizenship.

Democrats are using a special procedure that protects their economic package against GOP filibusters, which could kill it, but those rules also require provisions to be mostly budget related, not driven by new policies. The nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rejected Democrats' two previous immigration proposals.

The immigration proposal was described by two people who discussed it only on condition of anonymity. They said the provision would help around 7 million migrants remain temporarily in the U.S.

After Biden met Thursday with House Democrats at the Capitol and presented the outline of his economic proposal, some expressed disappointment with his visit and the framework. While tables summarizing the programs in the 10-year, $1.75 trillion plan mentioned $100 billion for immigration, that money was listed separately, not within the overall price tag, leading some to wonder if it might be derailed.

“The $100 billion is there but it’s a footnote,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., as he left the closed-door session with Biden. He added that during the meeting, Biden said “nothing on immigration,” an omission the lawmaker said left him feeling “anonymous.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the overall package was “still evolving.” But he said he was supportive of the measure because of its spending on children, expansion of Medicare coverage and other programs.

Those initiatives “will greatly improve the lives of American families, especially Hispanics,” Ruiz said.

Pro-immigration groups whose hopes for legislative breakthroughs have fallen short so far this year were cheered by the money's mention. Bridgette Gomez, campaign director of We Are Home, a coalition of labor and progressive groups, called it “a huge step forward for the country."

It was unclear when Senate aides would discuss the work permit proposal with the parliamentarian. Leaders want to push the overall legislation through Congress soon, though it's uncertain whether unresolved disputes among Democrats will permit that.

Some advocates want Democrats to use their 51-50 Senate majority — which includes Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote — to negate any ruling by MacDonough that blocks immigration language.

It was unclear if Democrats had the unanimous party support they would need to prevail. In the past, leaders have shown little enthusiasm for overturning the parliamentarian's rulings.

The White House economic framework only broadly described how the $100 billion would be used. It said the money would help reduce various backlogs in the immigration process, provide more legal representation and make “the asylum system and border processing more efficient and humane.”

An initial House version of the economic legislation would let the government use hundreds of thousands of unused visas to admit people into the U.S. It would also change an old law to let migrants in the U.S. before 2010 apply for permanent legal status. That statute currently applies to people here before 1972, making it largely irrelevant.

The House and Senate will have to approve identical legislation before it can get Biden's signature.

In recent weeks, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled against two previous immigration proposals. One would have created a pathway to permanent residence for 8 million migrants. The other, like the House bill, would update the law letting those in the U.S. before 1972 apply for permanent status.

The $1.75 trillion overall plan is half the price tag envisioned three months ago, omits some priorities like requiring paid family leave and leaves detailed decisions for later.