Latest attempt at immigration reform ousted from Democrats’ bill

Sen. Richard Durbin walks in the Senate subway area
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), shown in January 2021, said a vote to overrule the Senate parliamentarian is being considered.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)
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Deportation protection for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally cannot be included in the Democrats’ social spending and climate bill, a key Senate official ruled Thursday, according to sources familiar with the ruling, a likely death knell for any meaningful immigration policy in the sweeping package.

The Senate parliamentarian, an unelected official tasked with interpreting Senate rules, said the deportation protection plan does not comply with the guidelines Democrats must follow in order to pass their bill under reconciliation, a fast-track legislative procedure that allows senators to circumvent the Senate filibuster.

The deportation protection plan was the third immigration proposal rejected by the parliamentarian.


The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, wrote in September that Democrats’ first proposal — a full pathway to citizenship — would not comply with the rules.

MacDonough said the proposed pathway to citizenship was a major policy change with implications that far exceeded what can be done through the reconciliation legislative process, which is supposed to deal with issues directly related to the budget.

“Changing the law to clear the way to [lawful permanent resident] status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact,” she wrote in a rare written explanation of her decision.

A second plan to change the so-called immigration registry to allow citizenship was rejected days later.

The Senate can overrule the parliamentarian’s decision, but such a step would be unprecedented.

Nevertheless, several House Democrats and some Senate Democrats, including California Sen. Alex Padilla, have already made that call, since the social spending bill is probably the last opportunity Democrats will have to enact meaningful immigration policy before the 2022 midterm election. The calls to overrule the parliamentarian are likely to intensify in the wake of her decision.


In recent days, the No. 2 Senate Democrat opened the door to overruling her decision. After weeks of dismissing the idea as unrealistic, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he would support it. “I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he added.

But Democrats are worried about the prospect of enacting a once-in-a-generation bill without any meaningful immigration policy. “These chances don’t happen very often,” Durbin said.

Disregarding the parliamentarian’s decision would require the support of all 48 Senate Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them. Durbin, who is responsible for keeping track of Democratic votes, said his gut instinct is that the vote would be “close.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, is adamantly opposed.

“I’m not going to vote to overrule the parliamentarian,” Manchin said on Fox News in November.