“As you know, the role of the Parliamentarian is an advisory one, and the opinion of the Parliamentarian is not binding,” reads the letter calling on the Senate to create a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants. (Photo Jeniffer Solis)
Whether millions of immigrants living in the U.S. get a path to citizenship is resting on the decision of one “un-elected official” — the Senate parliamentarian.
At least that’s the criticism shared in a letter signed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer by Nevada House Representatives Dina Titus and Steven Horsford.
The letter urges Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as the Senate’s presiding officer, to use her authority to overrule the parliamentarian.
In a big blow, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled twice that Democrats’ proposal to provide legal status to roughly 8 million people fell outside the boundaries of what can be done through budget reconciliation, a process that allows a simple majority to pass a bill instead of having to meet the usual 60-vote threshold.
In the weeks following the decision immigrant rights advocates in Nevada and nationwide have rallied and called on Democrats to change, ignore or overturn the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling.
On Wednesday, dozens of House members responded to those demands by releasing a letter to Schumer urging the Senate Presiding Officer to “disregard the Senate Parliamentarian’s ruling” and back a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the proposed trillion dollar spending package.
“As you know, the role of the Parliamentarian is an advisory one, and the opinion of the Parliamentarian is not binding,” reads the letter.
Following protests in Nevada, Horsford and Titus signed onto the letter to express their “concern regarding the Senate Parliamentarian’s memorandum, which dismisses the budgetary impact of providing a pathway to citizenship for eight million people.”
“Immigrants have been waiting decades for a comprehensive solution that recognizes their humanity and immeasurable contributions to our community,” said Titus in a statement. “Today I called on the Senate’s Presiding Officer to exercise authority to overrule the Parliamentarian and provide a pathway to citizenship in reconciliation.”
In the letter, House Democrats questioned the parliamentarian’s judgment in denying the economic impact of providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants.
“In denying any possible pathway to citizenship or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) status, the Parliamentarian, an un-elected official, is denying the economic impact of such legislation and the tributes that millions of undocumented individuals have paid to this country,” reads the letter.
Passing legislation through reconciliation means the measure must be budget-related, but in her ruling the Senate parliamentarian wrote, “the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.”
But immigrant rights advocates have argued that immigration is also a fiscal issue, an idea backed by some data.
A study released earlier this year by the Center for American Progress and the University of California, Davis, Global Migration Center found that providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, individuals with temporary humanitarian protections and undocumented essential workers would increase the U.S. gross domestic product by a total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create more than 400,000 new jobs.
House Democrats also argued in the letter that there is precedent for the vice president overruling the opinion of the Senate Parliamentarian, as Republican Vice President Nelson Rockefeller did in 1975.
Now the big question is whether Democrats in the Senate are willing to overrule the parliamentarian if need be.
The offices of Titus and Horsford did not respond to questions about whether the representatives had spoken to Nevada Sen. Cathrine Cortez Masto about their request for the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian.
Schumer said he’s been working with Cortez Masto and four other Democratic senators — Sen. Alex Padilla (CA), Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Sen. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), and Sen. Dick Durbin (IL)— to revise reconciliation language to craft an alternative that might withstand MacDonough’s legal objections.
Neither Schumer nor Cortez Masto have publicly advocated overruling the parliamentarian.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Cortez Masto said Democrats “haven’t given up on including immigration reform” in the reconciliation bill, and are “still working through the potential proposals with the parliamentarian.”
In response to a request for comment about calls from the House to circumvent the parliamentarian’s ruling, Cortez Masto’s office issued a statement expressing hope for a solution while not directly addressing the House letter.
“Senator Cortez Masto remains focused on passing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farm and essential workers through the reconciliation bill, as she has throughout this process,” said a statement from her office. “She is working with her colleagues on several options to ensure immigrant communities are protected. The Senator continues to believe that this is the moment to take action and fix our broken immigration system,”.
Activists with the National TPS Alliance and the Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, who protested the parlimentarian’s ruling outside the Federal Building on South Las Vegas Boulevard last week, said the letter was a welcome development.
“We’re pleased to see the fruits of our labor and that they are taking our requests seriously,” said Fransis Garcia, a member of Arriba and a holder of Temporary Protected Status, in her native Spanish, but added that she wants to see results.
“Like we always say, we can’t trust their words. We have to wait for them to actually do it,” Garcia said in Spanish. “We’ll keep fighting and pushing. We know they have the power to do this.”
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