Durbin confirms: Democrats will put amnesty plan into infrastructure bill

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

What better time to push through amnesty for potentially millions of illegal immigrants than during the Biden border crisis? As tone-deaf as the plan is, that is exactly what Senate Democrats are planning to do in the $3.5T infrastructure bill. A decision has not been made on the numbers yet but Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, confirmed this week that it will happen. Democrats will try to push through immigration reform in the budget process.

With the news being reported today that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to bring a trial vote on infrastructure to the floor of the Senate by Wednesday of next week, this is an interesting turn of events. Add that to the ruling by the federal judge who determined that DACA is “an illegally implemented program”, and immigration reform has come to the forefront of political discourse once again. In the past, it has been an issue that a bipartisan group gets together and comes up with a plan to move immigration reform through Congress but at the last minute it always falls apart and the issue gets kicked down the road. This plan will likely include those people designated as Dreamers, farmworkers, and possibly essential workers like those who worked as health care workers during the pandemic.

Politico reports that this plan is being hatched by leaders of the Progressive Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Black Caucus. The biggest cheerleaders for this move are Senators Durbin, Bob Menendez, and Bernie Sanders. Rep. Raul Ruiz of California is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and he says, “This is currently our best effort.” Democrats privately admit that this is likely their only chance to ram through immigration reform, given the deeply divided political atmosphere and the fact that the Senate is evenly split 50/50 with any tie-breaking votes going to Kamala. Democrats have no mandate with such narrow margins.

While Democratic leaders haven’t revealed details about their precise plans, several lawmakers said the party will take a trial-and-error approach. One Democratic lawmaker involved said negotiators are still looking at which mix of policy changes would raise enough money to pay for other unrelated priorities in the sprawling spending package.

“I’m pretty confident,” Ruiz said, citing several studies about the policy’s economic impact, but he stressed that the goal was a measured approach that can satisfy the Senate budget rules. “We will be flexible and continue to push throughout the entire process and get as far as we can get.”

So far, the idea is attracting little resistance from Democrats, even with their threadbare margins in both chambers. House Democrats, which have struggled on broader immigration bills, have already unanimously backed a pathway to citizenship for those Dreamers, farmworkers and immigrants previously granted Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS. Another option is extending a path to citizenship for all TPS recipients.

The possibility of success with this scheme is in question. It would have to survive the Senate’s budget rules in order to pass without Republican support. The Senate parliamentarian is a former immigration lawyer, by the way. Democrats say they will work with the parliamentarian to get as far as they can. Will the parliamentarian rule against including a pathway to citizenship in the budget process? That is the question. She ruled against Democrats including the minimum wage increase in a coronavirus aid bill earlier this year.

If Democrats continue down this path, Republicans are ready to pounce, as the saying goes.

“It’s something that we would challenge,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who has been involved in the bipartisan talks. “There’s a legitimate question to be asked about whether it’s eligible for reconciliation.”

It is notable that Tillis is quoted as opposed to the Democrat’s move as he and Senator Cornyn just last week called on Durbin to take up a bill that targets DACA. The bill would provide permanent status to DACA recipients, a move that a majority of Americans support, but a relatively small targeted move rather than broad sweeping immigration reform. Take it one step at a time, in other words. This was before the federal judge ruled on DACA yesterday. If his ruling holds and survives a likely Supreme Court ruling, no new young people will be eligible for DACA protection.

“We ask that you schedule a markup of a bill that only addresses the population with the most urgent need: active DACA recipients. In addition, Senators should be free to offer reasonable amendments to this bill through an open amendment process, and receive an up-or down vote on these amendments. We expect that such amendments would likely include proposals related to border security, interior enforcement and employment verification programs.”

The most questionable group that the Democrats want to include falls in the essential worker category. That opens the door for millions of illegal immigrants and includes “front-line workers across nearly 20 sectors, including janitors, nurses and farmworkers.” Democrats are feeling the heat from activists who support blanket amnesty for all illegal immigrants. They point to the upcoming mid-term elections and say that Hispanic voters may punish Democrats for not at least trying to do something big now. There’s a growing realization that some Hispanic voters are shifting to voting for Republican candidates, as recently happened in the Rio Grande Valley, a traditionally Democrat-controlled area in Texas. The Biden border crisis is a big part of that shift. The border crisis and illegal immigration is one area where Biden’s support among voters, in general, has tanked as time goes on.

Sen. Mark Kelly’s (D-Ariz.) “reelection depends on” delivering a pathway to citizenship, said Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change Action, a progressive grassroots group.

Many young Latino voters who supported Democrats in high numbers in 2020 have undocumented family members, said Praeli, warning that “they have been hearing, ‘We’re going to get it done, you just got to vote for us!’ cycle after cycle. … And so at some point, that argument loses its potency.”

Kelly said on Thursday that the Senate needs to support young immigrants and farmworkers but that he’d need to “look at the details” of whatever is proposed.

Democrats risk paying a steep price in 2022 if they continue on with this attempt to get amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants while the Biden border crisis rages on with no end in sight. This kind of legislation will only encourage even more to flood the southern border. Democrats are failing to read the room and instead choosing to appease the most progressive of their base. It’s a boneheaded decision.