Dems Urged to “Grow a Backbone” and Negate Parliamentarian on Immigration Reform

The Senate parliamentarian, an unelected functionary tasked with interpreting the upper chamber’s rules, advised Democrats late Thursday to exclude an immigration reform plan from their faltering Build Back Better package — a recommendation that progressives and rights groups said should be readily dismissed.

Elizabeth MacDonough, a Parliamentarian and a former Immigration and Naturalization Services(INS) employee prosecutorwho worked on detention or deportation matters argued that Democrats’ plan to temporarily shield millionsSenate rules require that all reconciliation bills have a direct effect on the federal budget. This includes the protection of undocumented immigrants from deportation or extension of work permits.

While MacDonough’s opinion is non-binding — and, according to experts, wrong on the merits — the Senate with few exceptionshe has remained loyal to previous rulings of parliament, a trend that progressive lawmakers as well as immigrant rights advocates believe must be stopped.

Kamala Harris, Vice President of the Senate, has presided over the proceedings. constitutional authorityto overrule the parliamentarian, power the Biden White House refused after the official advisedProtest against raising the federal minimum wage from $15 an hour to $15 per hour, and other Democratic proposals earlier in the year.

“The parliamentarian is not an elected official. Their guidance is advisory not law,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who pointed to the Senate GOP’s decision in 2001 to terminate then-Parliamentarian Robert Dove after he issued a pair of recommendations that imperiled the party’s tax cuts for the rich, which ultimately became law.

“Democrats must overrule the parliamentarian to pass immigration reform,” Bowman added.

Erika Andiola, chief advocate officer for the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Service, stated in a statement late Thursday that “MacDonough’s anti-immigrant ruling is a surprise to no one,” citing her past as an INS prosecutor.

“Now, we need Democrats to do something they have routinely failed to do under the current administration and the previous Democratic administrations: Grow a backbone and wage a real fight to protect our communities,” said Andiola. “Despite the ruling today, Democrats still have numerous avenues and the tools needed to deliver safety to the millions of immigrants living in daily uncertainty. There is no excuse for inaction.”

“Senate Democrats have the power to deliver on protection for immigrants if they have the courage to lead now,” Andiola continued. “Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Vice President Kamala Harris can overrule the parliamentarian, fire the parliamentarian, or abolish the filibuster. President Biden has the power to take executive action to protect our communities. There’s no excuse.”

MacDonough’s new advisory opinion represents the third time in recent months that she has deemed immigration reform proposals in violation of the Senate’s arcane reconciliation rules, which analysts and lawmakers argue are open to a wide range of interpretations.

“The parliamentarian’s opinion is incorrect on immigration,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) declared. “There’s a clear budgetary impact and years of precedent for immigration policy changes through reconciliation. We must pursue all options to deliver a path to citizenship, including for Dreamers and essential workers.”

Despite growing grassroots pressure, Senate Democratic leaders are not clear that they will support the overrule of the parliamentarian on immigration or any other matter on which she is set to advise in the coming days.

Sens. Schumer, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), and Alex Padilla (D.Calif.) made a joint statement on Thursday evening. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said that “we strongly disagree with the Senate parliamentarian’s interpretation of our immigration proposal, and we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act.”

“Throughout the entire reconciliation process, we have worked to ensure that immigration reform was not treated as an afterthought,” the senators said. “The majority of Americans support our efforts to provide legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States because it would raise wages, create good-paying jobs, enrich our economy, and improve the lives of all Americans.”

The parliamentarian’s recommendation Thursday was the latest hammer blow that Democrats’ flagship reconciliation package suffered this week, most of them inflicted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is attempting to gut the expanded child tax credit and has removedA provision that will permanently prohibit new drilling off the Atlantic coast and Pacific coasts.

“This is a tragic milestone in the seemingly inevitable dismantling of the Build Back Better Act,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, saidThe drilling provision has been killed.

That Manchin “wants to poison our coasts while he lives the good life in his landlocked state,” Hartl added, “only shows just how out of touch he is with the overwhelming public support for ending offshore drilling.”