After months of congressional deliberations and negotiations over the looming $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled against Democrats’ plan to include a path to citizenship for 8 million undocumented immigrants (The Washington Post 2021). Her position as a non-partisan arbiter is to make recommendations on policy proposals that are consistent with the rules of the institution. In doing so, MacDonough dealt an overwhelming blow to immigration advocates nationwide, catapulting the futures of millions of people seeking to improve their lives and their families’ lives into more uncharted waters.
MacDonough justified her ruling by explaining that granting Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status to millions of immigrants “dwarfs the [reconciliation bill’s] budgetary impact” and that it could form a harmful precedent (The Washington Post 2021). Those reasons may seem compelling. After all, granting citizenship to immigrants seems only faintly connected to budgetary legislation, and a Republican-controlled government could hypothetically enact a swift reversal through use of parliamentary precedent. To put it bluntly, however, both points are fatally flawed.
Budget reconciliation bills only need a simple majority for passage. The fact that the opposition party can filibuster all other legislation and that 60 votes are needed to overcome such a move is ridiculous enough to deem Senate procedure worthy of change. But even if this major institutional flaw is set aside, the circumstances of those in need far outweigh MacDonough’s reasoning, and her reasoning itself is just not very defensible.
MacDonough’s claim that the Democrats’ proposed immigration breakthrough would ruin the purpose of budgetary rule ignores one glaring reality: the limitations on budget reconciliation bills are very broadly stated. One such type of measure classified as “extraneous,” according to the House Committee on the Budget, would be a measure “with no budgetary effect,” (House Budget Committee Democratic Caucus 2021). Thus, for a limitation to be defined in such a way makes her ruling flawed. There are myriad ways a pathway to citizenship would positively impact the government’s budget.
Crucially, placing millions of immigrants on a path to citizenship would be a revenue-raising measure for the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. As history suggests, previous actions pertaining to immigration processing were intended to become “revenue-raising actions”; therefore, the kind of immigration legislation Democrats are now proposing should qualify for the reconciliation bill, contrary to MacDonough’s reservations (FAS 2020). In regard to the value immigrants bring to the United States, the Democrats’ immigration legislation is projected to add $1.7 trillion to America’s GDP over a decade and hundreds of thousands of jobs (Center for American Progress 2020).
MacDonough’s claim that her ruling will set a precedent in protection of Senate procedure ignores present-day political polarization. Future Republican governance, given dwindling party affiliation numbers and a country becoming more and more diverse, will not pass up the opportunity to usher in major policy overhauls, especially regarding immigration, with or without the cautionary note of a Senate parliamentarian. Principle has become irrelevant to that party. Blocking Attorney General Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 because it was an “election year” and then confirming Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in, you guessed it, an election year, suggests that. Investigating Hillary Clinton for Benghazi for months and still blocking the formation of a bipartisan committee into the Jan. 6 riots suggests that.
In addition, this focus on parliamentary procedure is ignoring the most important consequence of the reconciliation bill’s provision to provide citizenship: the actual livelihoods of the people who will be impacted. As of June 2021, 10.2 million immigrants lived and worked across America (Center for American Progress 2021). In recognition of the idea that humans are inherently deserving of equal protection of their basic rights, these people undoubtedly deserve the right to citizenship. Many of these immigrants fled countries where they felt their lives and their families’ lives were under threat or lacked the stability necessary to live with dignity. Their simple desire for a better and safer life will be met with legal status, which offers more political freedom, mobility, protection from deportation and capacity to hold a government job (CitizenPath).
Much of the opposition to comprehensive immigration reform is a byproduct of fearmongering and xenophobia, which have consistently portrayed and overgeneralized immigrants in a negative light. Democrats must not allow such influences to continue plaguing the issue of immigration just to protect a Senatorial procedure, which as aforementioned, could still defend the decision to include immigration reform.
Empathy is necessary in politics, and immigration is a prime area in which it can be manifested. The United States is the world’s richest country, capable of welcoming people of all backgrounds into the powerhouse that it is. So let’s keep it going.