WASHINGTON — Advocates for immigrants, including U.S. Catholic bishops, hoped this fall would bring historic relief. A decision in September dealt a blow to that hope.
They had hoped a provision in the $3.5-trillion budget bill Congress is debating would have granted legal status to 8 million farmworkers and essential workers, young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as minors, and recipients of a temporary program for migrants.
Instead, the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan interpreter of rules of how a provision can be used in Senate legislation, said Sept. 19 that the Democrats’ plan was “not appropriate” for inclusion in the budget reconciliation bill process.
Senate Democrats hope to pass the budget using reconciliation — meaning it could be passed with a simple majority, not the 60 votes usually needed and with no Republican support.
Many advocates for immigrants across the country, including a coalition of faith organizations in San Diego, vowed to keep working to find relief for undocumented migrants.
“This ruling does not mean this process is over,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. He said Democrats will be working in the coming days to present the parliamentarian a different plan.
Republicans had opposed the tactic and said Democrats should first try to solve the problems piling up at the southern border with Mexico, where thousands of migrants remained trapped under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas, trying to cross over.
Moving forward on such a grand-scale immigration provision would only have signaled to others to attempt a border crossing and compound the problem already there, said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking member on the Budget Committee.
Days before the parliamentarian ruled, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, had lauded the proposed wording in the reconciliation measure.
“This is a welcome milestone for many families and the common good,” he said. “For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity. We cannot persist in relegating these members of our society to the margins, especially when we simultaneously depend on so many of them for our collective well-being.”
The San Diego Organizing Project, the largest network of congregations in the local region, emailed a statement after the ruling was announced.
“We believe in the inherent dignity of every human, and as people of faith, we welcome the stranger and we protect the oppressed,” the statement said. “We urge senators to be bold and more forward with an alternative approach to protect and create pathways to citizenship!
The SDOP statement quoted José “Tony” Martinez, of St. Francis Catholic Church in Vista: “As we organize for the next steps, our faith informs our commitment to stand in solidarity with undocumented essential workers, TPS holders and DACA recipients. More than ever, we are called to remain staunch messengers of God’s hope. Let us remember: ‘for God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26).
The Southern Cross contributed to this story.