Immigration advocates outside the federal courthouse on Las Vegas Boulevard in November calling on Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto to pressure Vice President Kamala Harris to ignore the parliamentarian and include a path to citizenship in the budget bill. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)
The latest version of the Biden administration’s social spending bill in Congress doesn’t include a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, instead offering a temporary parole option that falls short of what many advocates want.
The legislation, dubbed the Build Back Better Act, would carve out a temporary parole option — essentially a work permit — for close to 7 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country since at least since Jan. 1, 2011. Those eligible would be protected from deportation for up to 10 years.
Congress also aims to increase green card limits by including green card “recapture” in the bill, which would reauthorize previously issued green cards that have gone unused since 1992.
If passed as currently written, the bill would grant a minimum of a five-year parole, with an option of an additional five years to qualifying immigrants who submit an application and pay a fee. Parole would also grant immigrants travel rights and the option of applying for a driver’s license.
However, immigration rights advocates in Nevada say parole is an insufficient solution to the broken immigration system.
“It doesn’t fix anything for our communities,” said Erika Castro, who leads the Nevada Immigrant Coalition. “The promise was to give us a path to citizenship not to simply give us parole.”
Advocates say the current proposed provisions for immigration would potentially give undocumented immigrants protection against work place abuse and wage theft, but “after those 10 years of protection are up, we’ll be back to square one,” said Castro.
“People once again will be vulnerable to employer retaliation or deportation,” Castro said.
Whether even watered down provisions will make it into the final bill is unclear, however. Two previous proposals for a pathway to citizenship through the reconciliation process were rejected by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who said the proposals fell outside the boundaries of what can be done through budget reconciliation.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who has been involved in negotiations on immigration provisions in the reconciliation package, along with her Senate colleagues will determine next steps once the Senate parliamentarian has considered the House’s proposal to include work authorization in the bill, according to her office.
Cortez Masto said she and her colleagues “haven’t given up” on providing a pathway to citizenship through reconciliation, the Senate procedure allowing legislation to pass with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster.
“We need to do everything we can to provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, to farmers and essential workers, to TPS holders,” Cortez Masto said during a telephone town hall this week. “We have not given up on the idea that we can actually engage in immigration reform in the reconciliation package.”
During the town hall, Cortez Masto said she believes the Senate can balance the need for border security— a key Republican demand— along with immigration reform.
“They are not mutually exclusive,” Cortez Masto said. “We can do both.”
Cortez Masto said the Senate has an opportunity to focus on immigration reform once they come back from recess next week.
“We still have a strategy to move forward,” she said.
Passing a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation process, however, is proving to be an uphill battle after the Senate parliamentarian ruled against it twice. The Senate has the power to overturn either ruling but it would require Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as the Senate’s presiding officer, to overrule the decision or, alternatively, 60 votes from a divided Senate.
Nevada Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford as well as immigrant rights advocates in Nevada and nationwide have called on Senate Democrats to change, ignore or overturn the parliamentarian’s ruling.
“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 a letter to the Senate from dozens of House members, including Titus and Horsford.
In Nevada, immigrant advocates have consistently called on the Senate Democrats to push for a pathway to citizenship, leading to tensions with elected officials.
Immigrant rights group, UndocuCouncil, held a week long rally outside the federal courthouse on Las Vegas Boulevard late last month calling on Cortez Masto to champion immigration and pressure Vice President Kamala Harris to ignore the parliamentarian and include a path to citizenship in the budget bill.
“We don’t want parole,” said Victoria Ruiz, a lead organizer with UndocuCouncil and a DACA recipient. “We recognize that parole is something but it really is crumbs compared to what we’re asking for.”
Ruiz criticized Cortez Masto for failing to meet with directly impacted immigrant communities during negotiations on immigration relief in the reconciliation bill. Cortez Masto’s office said the senator has “been speaking regularly with advocates in Nevada to update them on her work.”
“We want her to disregard the parliamentarian and to commit to doing so publicly and to commit to meeting with our families in person,” Ruiz said. “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”
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