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As negotiations on Democrats’ social spending bill draw to a close, they tackle a final thorny issue: immigration

In September, Representative Jesus "Chuy" Garcia addressed demonstrators at a rally in support of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.Chip Somodevilla/Getty

WASHINGTON — A trio of House Democrats on Thursday made a last-minute push to broaden provisions to help undocumented families in the party’s massive social spending and climate change legislation, worried the bill might be the last opportunity to deliver on President Biden’s campaign promises on immigration reform given a deepening partisan divide on the issue.

Currently, the bill would provide temporary protections and work permits to roughly 7 million people living in the United States without authorized status and who entered the country before Jan. 1, 2011. That includes 1.6 million people who arrived as children, a group known as “dreamers,” and 3.6 million day care workers, janitors, and farmworkers doing essential jobs during the pandemic.


The changes were welcomed by some immigrant rights advocates and lawyers who have been pressuring President Biden to stay true to his pledge to significantly expand opportunities for immigrants and refugees in the United States. But they are still less than what the White House has previously proposed, including its initial plan for permanent residency and citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated the chances of broadening the immigration provisions were slim, pointing to opposition in the Senate. “Others want more, so do I — I want it all — but you don’t get it all,” Pelosi told reporters.

But three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who pushed for the temporary protections, Representatives Jesús “Chuy” Garcia of Illinois, Luis J. Correa of California, and Adriano Espaillat of New York, continue to press for a measure that provides citizenship.

“This is a very rare and unique opportunity, one that may or may not come around again in a very long time,” Correa told reporters Thursday night as the three lawmakers left Pelosi’s office shortly before the vote on the bill was pushed to Friday. “So we got to do the best we can.”


Their proposal involves a change to the mechanism known as “registry,” which allows people to apply for green cards if they were in the country before Jan. 1, 1972. They would change the eligibility date to 2010.

“If we are serious about building back better, we can’t leave behind our immigrant communities who delivered so much for the country,” Garcia said.

The three lawmakers have previously said they would not vote for the larger legislative package unless it includes significant immigration reforms. That is a meaningful threat, as with no support from Republicans expected, Democrats can’t pass the bill if more than three of its members oppose it.

But now that the measure includes temporary protections for immigrants, Garcia is hedging on how he would vote. “We will cross those bridges when we get to them,” he said.

As of Thursday evening, Garcia and the other members of the Hispanic Caucus were still working on winning support for the registry provision as negotiations on the spending bill continued and the timing of a final vote remained uncertain.

“Working it, working it, working it,” Correa said as he rushed into the House floor Thursday afternoon, attempting to avoid reporters who pelted him with questions about the chances of success.

Part of the challenge has been that House Democrats are aiming to pass the legislation through a complicated process known as budget reconciliation, which eliminates the ability of Senate Republicans to use a filibuster to block it. But the Senate parliamentarian has twice ruled against the inclusion of more sweeping immigration changes in the bill, saying they would not pass muster under reconciliation guidelines.


The bill’s revised framework agreed to by the White House and congressional Democrats last week has a price tag of $1.75 trillion, with another $100 billion to be added for the current immigration provisions if they pass Senate muster.

The temporary immigration protections now in the bill would let people apply for a process dubbed “parole” that lets them live and work in the country without fear of deportation for five years. Immigrants would then be permitted to apply for another five-year extension, through the end of 2031.

The measure would also provide some immigrants with accelerated access to green cards through a process known as “visa recapture.” This would increase the number of certain kinds of visas, as well as free up unused visas for people caught in processing backlogs.

Congressional Democrats this year have sought to temper expectations that Biden’s ambitious immigration plan would be passed in a single bill, suggesting a piecemeal approach. Overhauls of the nation’s immigration laws have failed in recent decades because of political gridlock — and the task has become harder in a narrowly divided Congress with the specter of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric still looming over the Republican Party.


Public polling has shown a shift to the left among Americans on immigration policy, with particularly strong support for legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children to remain in the United States. But views on the issue split dramatically along partisan lines. A recent polling and data analytics project conducted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics found overwhelming majorities of Trump voters believe that undocumented immigrants contribute to higher taxes and higher crime — perceptions that studies have refuted.

Still, immigrant rights advocates have urged Biden not to give up on his campaign promise to take a more humane approach to immigration, as many Republicans have continued to fuel racial and ethnic fears over the issue and blame Biden for what they have called dangerous conditions at the US-Mexico border.

Immigrant rights groups ramped up pressure in September as the Biden administration struggled to explain its treatment of Haitian asylum seekers in Texas, while congressional Democrats stripped out avenues to permanent residency and citizenship from their massive spending bill. On Thursday, hundreds of immigrants and activists protested outside of congressional offices in D.C. and in cities across the country, calling for Democrats to include broader immigration provisions.

“Anything less than green cards is not in our best interest, and the demonstrations you see today are our ringing the alarm to tell you that,” said Patrice Lawrence, executive director of the UndocuBlack Network, which provides resources to undocumented Black people.


Others said that despite their disappointment, they would welcome the temporary protections now in the legislation.

“This is a step in a longer fight and process, but it is a very needed one to ensure a level of protections for people right now,” Sergio Gonzalez, executive director of Immigration Hub, an advocacy organization comprised of former congressional staff, executive officials, and immigration policy advocates.

Immigration remained one of the last outstanding issues in the negotiations, Democrats said Thursday night. Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, who heads the Progressive Caucus, said lawmakers felt the latest immigration provisions could pass the parliamentarian’s inspection, but found it “extremely unlikely” many House members would be willing to do more, considering the obstacles in the Senate.

That’s why the bill contains the parole provision, “which is not what we deserve or need,” she said. “But we have really slim margins. That’s the problem.”