After procedural setbacks, faith leaders and immigration advocates are still fighting to guarantee people's pathway to citizenship.
Democrats had hoped to include a provision in President Joe Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget that would have given citizenship to millions, including Dreamer immigrants, brought to the United States as children, who are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But on Sept. 19, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough — a nonpartisan, unelected staff member who advises lawmakers about what is acceptable under the chamber's rules and precedents — advised against adding a provision for citizenship in the budget reconciliation process.
The provision would also have benefitted farmworkers, essential workers, and immigrants with temporary protected status. Temporary protected status gives work permits and deportation relief to those hailing from nations hit by violence or natural disasters.
On Tuesday, as lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C., after summer recess, thousands of immigrants and allies marched to the U.S. Capitol to urge lawmakers to ensure a pathway for citizenship. The rally, which was organized by the We Are Home campaign and the immigrant advocacy organization CASA, included speeches from immigrants, organizers, and members of congress. Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), himself an immigrant from Mexico, spoke of his disappointment at the parliamentarian’s decision.
“The Senate parliamentarian ruled against including a pathway to citizenship in budget reconciliation, but we’re not done,” Garcia said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve been at this for decades now. This is not a moment to give up. We’ve got to keep on fighting like hell for our families, friends, and neighbors — and we can't stop until we get a yes.”
Christian advocates lamented MacDonough’s decision and vowed to keep fighting. In a statement from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Quaker, Lutheran, Ignatian, and other leaders insisted that this decision was not the end of their efforts.
“This preliminary decision is only that: a preliminary decision for what was expected to be a rigorous process. We’re confident that an approach highlighting the unmistakable and life-changing impact of a pathway to earn citizenship will prevail,” Giovana Oaxaca, program director for migration policy at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and co-lead of the IIC Citizenship Working Group, said in the statement. “People of faith across the country demand justice and permanent protections for their family members and neighbors. We have to keep faith and our spirits high.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops referred Sojourners to a statement they issued last week praising the inclusion of the citizenship provision.
“For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity,” Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said in the Sept. 15 statement. “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 wellbeing.”
According to an estimate included in the Senate parliamentarian's ruling, obtained by Reuters, the proposed provision would have helped about 8 million people become lawful permanent residents, including about 7 million now deemed to infringe the law. MacDonough said that if the reform were allowed to proceed in a budget bill, a future Senate could then rescind anyone's immigration status on the basis of a majority vote.
That would be a “stunning development ... and is further evidence that the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it,” she added. MacDonough has been the Senate’s parliamentarian since 2021, serving under both Republican and Democrat leadership in the chamber.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.