Advocates see a ray of hope for some immigrants in Build Back Better bill
November 24, 2021 • Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Immigration advocates have seen promises for reform come and go, but many are hoping one of the best chances to provide some form of respite rests with President Joe Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better legislation that the Senate will consider.

The measure, passed in the House of Representatives Nov. 19 and exclusively backed by Democrats, seeks almost $2 trillion to address climate change, health care and a variety of social safety net programs.

At the moment, it includes provisions that would allow temporary work permits for almost 7 million people who are in the country without legal permission, preventing them from being deported and allowing them to travel, but these provisions stop short of granting them permanent residency, which could eventually lead to citizenship.

Immigration advocates are looking for measures that would grant the type of path to citizenship provided by a program President Ronald Reagan spearheaded in 1986. That program provided what some called amnesty for 3 million who had entered the country without permission before 1982 and it later led to citizenship for many.

Reagan was the last U.S. president to successfully rally bipartisan support in Congress to pass legislation that legalized, on such a grand scale, groups that had entered the country without permission to do so.

The House version would help those who have lived and worked in the U.S. without legal permission since January 2011, but analysts believe getting it approved by the Senate, even solely backed by the Democrats, will be a hard sell.

Some groups, such as the American Business Immigration Coalition, hailed the House’s version.

“Updates to the immigration work permits program is a major step forward for millions of immigrant workers and the employers who depend on their labor. With more than 10 million job openings across the country, this proposal will help bring people out of the shadows, expand our workforce and keep families together,” said Rebecca Shi, the group’s executive director in a Nov. 19 news release, shortly after the measure passed in the House.

“This vote comes at an important moment in our economic history, as additional workers will help address dire labor shortages that are a contributing factor to unmet consumer demand and rising inflation,” she continued.

Researchers for J.P. Morgan, in a Nov. 12 note, said immigration restrictions have slowed down the flow of workers into the labor market and hurt economic growth, according to a Nov. 23 story from Yahoo Finance.

Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, told Yahoo Finance that “immigration is crucial to growing the labor force and for economic growth.”

That’s why business groups such as the American Business Immigration Coalition, which has support from Republicans as well as Democrats, are urging the Senate to keep some of the provisions, which would help ease the labor shortage the country is experiencing.

However, immigrant advocates want what many Democrats long have promised but have been unable to deliver: a path to citizenship for 11 million who are in the country without permission.

Voters on both sides of the political aisle consistently show support for a path to citizenship but only for certain groups: young adults brought into the country illegally as children, often called Dreamers, essential workers, Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries and farmworkers. But neither party has been able to bring this about.

House Democrats called on their colleagues in the Senate Nov. 23 to beef up the immigration provisions, which fall short of the path-to-citizenship promises made.

But without Republican support, they would need every vote from members of their party. However, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has said he would not vote to overrule the Senate parliamentarian, who decides what can and cannot be done under the chamber’s reconciliation process.

Previously, the parliamentarian has rejected inclusion of immigration proposals, including a path to citizenship, saying they were not appropriate for a budget reconciliation bill.