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The Senate Parliamentarian is once again being a thorn in the side of immigration advocates in Congress. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Here we go again: Senate Parliamentarian blocks pathway to citizenship in budget reconciliation

It is, once again, also just a recommendation.

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Much to their disappointment, Democrats won’t be able to use their $3.5 trillion package supporting social and climate programs to finally give millions of immigrants the opportunity to become citizens. 

On Sunday, Sept. 19, the Senate’s Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, blocked Democrats from including a pathway to citizenship in the package.

In her ruling, MacDonough said that such an immigration policy change would “far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.” 

"The reasons that people risk their lives to come to this country — to escape religious and political persecution, famine, war, unspeakable violence and lack of opportunity in their home countries – cannot be measured in federal dollars," MacDonough said in her ruling. 

On Sept. 10, Democrats made their case before MacDonough, arguing that a pathway to citizenship for 8 million immigrants would have a $139 billion impact on the budget. They said that four categories would be considered for citizenship: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), farm workers and other essential workers. 

Democrats also maintained that these reforms could add $150 billion in spending to the U.S. economy each year and boost the nation’s gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. 

MacDonough’s decision comes as a damaging setback to the party’s efforts to enact long-sought immigration reform. Democrats and their pro-immigration allies have vowed to explore alternative approaches that would open a doorway to permanent status to at least some immigrants.

In a written statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed his deep discontent with the decision, but said the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants will continue.

“Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days,” Schumer said. 

One such approach would be to update a “registry” date that permits some immigrants in the states by that time to become permanent residents if they meet certain requirements, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will pursue this option or how the parliamentarian would rule. 

Martinez Rosas, executive director of the immigrants' rights group United We Dream, tweeted that the parliamentarian’s recommendation is simply a recommendation, and that Democrats can still deliver on their promises. 

“It’s time they side with millions of immigrants, our friends, and our communities. This isn’t over. We need citizenship THIS YEAR,” Rosas wrote. 

Schumer said that Democrats will hold extra meetings with MacDonough in the next few days to find alternative ways to include the citizenship opportunities, but the odds are stacked against them as there is no such precedent. 

“We are deeply disappointed in the Parliamentarian’s decision, but the fight for immigration reform will continue,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and Padilla said in a joint statement. 

"Senate Democrats have prepared an alternative proposal for the Parliamentarian's consideration in the coming days," they added.

“We are serious about not going home empty handed this year. Senate leadership has committed to pass legalization. Senate Democrats have affirmed they will go back to the parliamentarian and approach with different options. Tonight’s ruling doesn’t change our resolve,” United Farm Workers wrote in a Tweet. 

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