US Democrats’ bid to reform immigration laws blocked in Senate

Setback for reform advocates comes as the US is facing a new migrant crisis at the southern border with Mexico.

Border patrol on horseback cutoff migrants who were trying to re-enter the United States along the Rio Grande river after crossing into Mexico to buy food on September 19 [Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

A proposal by Democratic legislators in the United States Congress to allow millions of immigrants to legally stay in the country has been blocked in the US Senate.

The Senate parliamentarian, an unelected official who rules on key procedural matters, said on September 19 that a Democratic plan to attach the immigration proposal to a $3.5 trillion spending bill was not allowed under Senate rules, lawmakers said.

“We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The Democratic proposal, which is opposed by most Republicans, would provide a path to citizenship for about eight million undocumented immigrants, including many who came to the US as children.

Farmworkers, essential workers and immigrants with temporary protected status, which gives work permits and deportation relief to people from nations hit by violence or natural disasters, would also benefit under the plan.

The setback for US immigration reform advocates came as the Biden administration faced a new migrant crisis at the southern border with Mexico. Authorities are forcibly deporting some of the 12,000 Haitian migrants who have gathered under a highway bridge that connects Del Rio, Texas with Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.

Migrants seeking refuge in the United States cross back into Mexico via the Rio Bravo river, which divides the border between Ciudad Acuna, Mexico and Del Rio, Texas, to avoid being deported, on September 19 [Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

US authorities said the flights included some of the 3,300 migrants moved from under the bridge since Friday, and the government aims to “quickly” process 12,662 others living in the camp during the next seven days.

Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and would hold further meetings with the Senate parliamentarian, Schumer added.

A legislative remedy has become all the more pressing following a court ruling in July that struck down a federal programme ordered by former President Barack Obama that protects approximately 640,000 young immigrants from deportation.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, praised the parliamentarian’s ruling.

“Mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants isn’t a budgetary issue appropriate for reconciliation,” Grassley said on Twitter.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Democrats will not be able to stuff their most radical amnesty proposals into the reckless taxing and spending spree they are assembling behind closed doors.”

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s ruled that if the reform were allowed to proceed in the budget bill – which Democrats can pass with only 51 votes – a future Senate could rescind anyone’s immigration status on the basis of a simple majority vote.

That would be a “stunning development … and is further evidence that the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it,” MacDonough said.

“It is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.”

As the Senate’s parliamentarian, MacDonough advises lawmakers about what is acceptable under the chamber’s rules and precedents, sometimes with lasting consequences.

Chosen by the Senate majority leader, the holder of the job is expected to be non-partisan. MacDonough, in the job since 2012 under both Republicans and Democrats, barred inclusion of a minimum wage rise in a COVID-19 aid bill earlier this year.

Most US Senate bills require support from 60 of the 100 members to go to a vote. But the Senate is presently evenly divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans with Democrats holding the tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies