The Senate parliamentarian on Wednesday shot down the Democrats' plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants without going through the normal process of building consensus among lawmakers and voting to change the law.
Democrats have promised that widespread amnesty would be included in their $3.5 trillion spending bill, which they aim to pass through a process called budget reconciliation to deny Republicans the opportunity to filibuster and kill the bill. However, Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough told lawmakers that their attempt to update the immigration registry through budget reconciliation violates Senate rules, CQ Roll Call reports.
The plan involved changing the date on the immigration registry, which is currently set at 1972, to permit immigrants who have resided in the U.S. since then and demonstrated "good moral character" to become legal permanent residents. The idea to update the national immigration registry was a backup plan Democrats formed after the parliamentarian rejected their first attempt to include amnesty in the $3.5 trillion bill.
However, MacDonough reportedly told Senate Democrats that amnesty would be a "weighty policy change" and that any bill that would grant millions of illegal immigrants in the United States the right to stay here legally and seek U.S. citizenship is unlikely to meet the requirements for a budget reconciliation bill.
"The change in status to LPR [lawful permanent residency] remains a life-long change in circumstances the value of which vastly outweighs its budgetary impact," she said.
Reacting, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the parliamentarian's decision is a "disappointment" and acknowledged Democrats' options for passing amnesty are "limited."
""As people live desperate lives for fear of a knock on the door and no future for the kids, unfortunately we can't find the language to clear for the reconciliation that might help them," Durbin told Roll Call. "But yeah, we're gonna keep trying."
Other Senate Democrats voiced similar disappointment. Progressive activists online expressed outrage. Pro-amnesty groups protested outside the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C., demanding that she act as president of the Senate to overrule the recommendation from the parliamentarian.
The parliamentarian's ruling leaves Democrats with a few options. They could ignore the ruling and invoke the nuclear option to change the Senate's rules to pass amnesty for illegal aliens without the 60-vote threshold required by an inevitable filibuster from Republicans.
Or, lawmakers could negotiate a compromise and win a bipartisan consensus that meets the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster from the minority — in other words, use the normal process of public debate and persuasion to make progress in Congress. But that's unheard of.