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Democrats bet their political strengths on party-line immigration reform

The Senate parliamentarian, a former immigration lawyer, heard arguments from Republican and Democratic staff on the judiciary and budget committees on Friday, as well as members of the Senate leadership. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a markup on the issue on Monday.

The Democrats’ central argument to parliamentarians is that offering green cards to some undocumented immigrants would allow them to unlock federal benefits, which would have budget effects that they say are a substantial, direct and intended outcome. The Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary estimate is that the language of immigration in the party’s upcoming social spending bill would increase budget deficits by $ 139.6 billion over a 10-year period, aides said. democrats.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary and Budget Committees did not provide details of their arguments, although the GOP widely objects that the immigration reform aspects of the bill are foreign and should not. proceed to a simple majority vote in the Senate. Judiciary Committee Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted Friday that Democrats “never fail to fail on immigration reform” and “persist in pursuing partisan bills instead. than a bipartite reform of immigration “.

But Democrats point to the GOP’s success with a 2005 reconciliation measure that included immigration provisions, such as resolving a visa backlog, though immigration provisions were ultimately scrapped in the process. of the conference process.

Regarding the increased deficit their proposal would cause, Senate Democrats often cite a report from the Liberal Center for American Progress which found that giving undocumented migrants a path to citizenship would increase U.S. GDP by 1 500 billion dollars, would create 400,000 jobs and increase wages for more than 10 years. Additionally, they say offering green cards would increase recipients’ current tax contributions and lead to increased processing fees.

“There are a lot of requests, there are a lot of fees that go into the federal government to be processed by federal employees … so we think it’s more than appropriate,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D- Calif.), Who added that without the contributions of immigrants, “California would not be the fifth largest economy in the world.”

If approved by the parliamentarian, the immigration provisions under discussion would apply to dreamers, temporary protected status holders, agricultural workers and essential workers during the pandemic.

Democratic aides have also sought to make it clear that their efforts are to provide a path to legal status – not citizenship. But under current U.S. immigration law, those who eventually qualify to apply for green cards could apply for citizenship after five years if they meet certain conditions.

A decision in favor of the Democrats is no guarantee. Earlier this year, the parliamentarian rejected the party’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour using the reconciliation process. However, Democrats and immigrant advocates argue that the circumstances are different this time around, given that the minimum wage is not just tied to the federal government, unlike immigration law.

In interviews, Democratic lawmakers declined to say what their back-up plan would be if the parliamentarian came out against them on immigration, or whether they would support the vote to overturn it. But lawmakers involved in the talks have already made it clear that they intend to challenge the parliamentarian’s decision if it indicates Democrats failed to meet the standards to include a path to legal status in the package.

“We have a strategy to come back several times to the parliamentarian if there are disagreements on the first proposal,” said Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who stressed that the Democrats see this as “perhaps the only viable way for this Congress [has] to do it.

Democrats have been preparing their reconciliation strategy for months. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told members of the Hispanic caucus in February Democrats would explore the option and he met with them again recently to discuss the game plan, lawmakers and familiar aides said. with the meeting.

Biden and White House officials publicly support the effort. Biden first expressed his willingness in April to more proactively advocate the economic benefits of immigration.

External groups, such as the Service Employees International Union, have also coordinated with the Hill on their strategy.

Union president Mary Kay Henry said senators “are more clear on the need to create this path to citizenship than I have heard at any time in my life” and projected the optimism that ” the parliamentarian will be armed with the arguments she needs to allow the paths to be reconciled. “

And after months of talks with the White House and Democratic leaders on the Hill, immigrant advocates are confident that coordination and the united message will prevail.

“It really feels like our highlight and our best time because of all the hard work we’ve put in. … It’s long overdue, ”said Alida Garcia, former Biden Senior Migration Advisor and Vice President of Advocacy at FWD.us. “Right now, it’s full steam ahead. “

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.