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Inside Democrats’ efforts to include immigration in their economic agenda bill

<i>Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images</i><br/>Senate Democrats at the Capitol
Getty Images
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Senate Democrats at the Capitol

By Lauren Fox and Daniella Diaz, CNN

Senate Democrats made their case Friday to include a path to legalization for millions of immigrants in their $3.5 trillion bill to expand the country’s social safety net.

In a key meeting with the Senate’s parliamentarian, Elizabeth McDonough, Democrats argued for their plan to give roughly 8 million immigrants an opportunity to apply for green cards in the country and how it would have a major economic impact, a pitch they hope will convince her to allow them to include it in a complicated process known as reconciliation.

Under that process, Democrats can pass legislation with just a simple majority. But, they have to prove the law they are trying to pass along party lines has more than just an “incidental” impact on the country’s bottom line.

The legislation has to undergo what is known as the Byrd bath, a process named for former West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd who helped craft the limits of when a political party can use the special budgetary process.

In the meeting Friday, sources told CNN that Democratic aides argued that allowing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, people with Temporary Protected Status, farm workers and other essential workers to apply for Legal Permanent Residency would make them eligible for social programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other health benefits. That eligibility aides estimated would add $139 billion to the deficit.

Democrats also cited a more narrow immigration law change that was made in 2005 in a reconciliation bill that allowed the recapturing of previously unused employment immigrant visas. That bill passed the Senate in 2005, but stalled in the House.

The effort to include immigration in the Democrats’ economic agenda bill faces long odds, but it may be Democrats’ best hope for doing something on the issue. It comes after a months-long battle to reach a bipartisan deal fell apart.

Democrats estimate their legislation would make roughly 8 million immigrants eligible for Legal Permanent Residency status, short of the 11 million that would have benefited from the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill, but aides say the goal of this legislation is more narrow than the bill nearly a decade ago.

“Look, this is not comprehensive immigration reform,” one Democratic aide said Thursday. “This is a budget reconciliation bill, we feel, and our bosses clearly feel that in terms of satisfying the very stringent test for inclusion in the budget reconciliation bill that these populations were most appropriate for inclusion.”

It’s not clear when the Senate parliamentarian will rule. In the past, rulings have come after multiple presentations by Republican and Democratic staff. Aides told CNN that they’ve been given no assurances when a decision will be made, but one aide cautioned it may not happen ahead of a markup in the House Judiciary Committee next week.

The effort is one of the last clear opportunities for Democrats to pass substantial immigration reform in Biden’s first year in office. While the White House has argued immigration is a top priority, Democrats lack the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass legislation. And, in the House, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have acknowledged that reconciliation provides the clearest path forward.

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