EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Disappointed but not defeated. That’s how some unauthorized migrants and their advocates are feeling after the Senate’s parliamentarian on Sunday disallowed immigration language in the pending $3.5 trillion spending reconciliation package.
The move leaves some 8 million so-called “Dreamers,” essential workers who happen to be in the country without authorization, farm laborers and Temporary Protected Status visa holders staring at an uncertain future. This includes healthcare providers who were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, children brought over by their parents and mothers with U.S.-born sons and daughters.
“We are already part of this country. We are already part of the economy. Many of us own our homes, pay taxes. It’s time to reform the immigration system,” said Susana H., an El Paso resident and homeowner with a son in college. The native of Mexico is also an undocumented immigrant.
Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on Sunday ruled that the legalization’s impact on American society would far exceed the economic benefits outlined by the Democratic majority.
Long-time migrant advocates like Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, dispute that. They say migrants, especially the hundreds of thousands who have resided in the United States for decades and worked continuously despite lacking legal documents, have a positive impact on the economy.
“It was a political decision more than a procedural one. That is clear in the language (the parliamentarian) is using,” Garcia said. “But we are neither defeated nor lacking the will to go on. There are other legal avenues we will try. It is important to press the Biden administration and the Democrats to deliver on promises made during the 2020 election.”
In El Paso, a Far West Texas county of 860,000 inhabitants where the unemployment rate prior to the pandemic stood at 3%, advocates estimate the number of undocumented immigrants to be in the tens of thousands. Many of them came over before the turn of the century, gave birth to American children, or are otherwise members of mixed-status families, they say.
Some, like Susana, even participated in voter-registration campaigns of U.S. citizens and encouraged them to exercise their right to vote.
“Latinos voted for this administration with the expectation they would bring about immigration reform. We will not release them from that promise; we still expect them to deliver on it this year,” Garcia said.
Democratic leaders in Congress prior to the decision stated they would modify the language in the reconciliation budget should the parliamentarian reject it. But MacDonough’s ruling, as reported by national media, appears to deal more with principle than nickels and dimes.
That is prompting advocates to call for alternative direct, sweeping actions from Democrats.
“Other options include doing away with the filibuster. There is a Democratic majority that can pass immigration reform if it really wants to. Without the filibuster, immigration reform passes with a simple majority,” Garcia said.
Right now, if Democrats want to pass immigration reform and the Republicans object to it through the filibuster rule, 60 members of the Senate would have to go along with. That’s all 50 Democrats and independents, plus 10 Republicans. Without the filibuster rule, a simple majority plus the vice president’s tie-breaker would be enough.
“The Democrats owe us this since the days of Barack Obama,” Susana said. “They know what they have to do and we will continue to press them for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship.”
National civil rights organizations shared in the disappointment and concurred that lawmakers have to keep trying to legalize millions of unauthorized immigrants who’ve become part of U.S. society and the economy.
“They’re making our country better, so to say that helping them is outside the scope of the budget is not true and again puts the Latino community on the back burner like we’re not important,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).