Congressional Democrats have been strenuously trying to include an immigration subsection into the currently debated Infrastructure Bill as an effort to forward the President’s agenda to effectuate long-needed immigration reform. Yesterday, for the second time, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough struck down the Democrats’ plan (Called Plan B) to include an immigration policy change into the infrastructure bill. This plan, if approved, would have helped millions of immigrants to legalize their status and represented a real avenue for hopeful change. Indeed, it has been projected that this proposal would have helped an estimated 8 million immigrants.
It is consequential to explore the exact nature of the current immigration proposal set forth by congressional Democrats. Within the context of this blog, it will be the intention to detail what the Democrats were proposing and to provide a historical reference to help understand its current relevance. Simply stated, the goal of the immigration subsection was to try to change the eligibility date for when immigrants in the United States may apply to change their legal status. Notably, the new plan would have allowed immigrants in the U.S. before 2010 remain permanently if they met certain conditions. This represents a critically important and weighty avenue to allow these individuals to apply for a green card, also known as lawful permanent residency.
So what exactly is the immigration proposal within the current Infrastructure bill? The proposal essentially involves updating something called the Registry Act. The Registry Act was first established in 1929 under President Herbert Hoover. It allowed immigrants to apply for a green card if they could provide evidence they had arrived in the United States before 1921 and were of “good moral character.” This was consequential in that it set them on the road to citizenship, a status of “lawful” entry being a requirement for naturalization. Congress last updated the date in that law in 1986, when it said immigrants in the United States before January 1, 1972 could qualify for permanent status. Indeed, the last change was approved by President Ronald Reagan. In the current iteration, Congress was simply trying to update the Registry Act’s date-of-entry cut-off which is arguably long overdue.
Immigration attorney Edward Shulman was asked by a New Jersey network of Immigration attorneys and advocates to weigh in on the updating of the Registry Act. He stated, “This update would not only adhere to the intent and goals set forth in the establishment of the Registry but it would honor people who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to residing honorably in the United States, offering new hope for citizenship to a considerable population of currently undocumented individuals.” While Shulman echoed the resounding disappointment that this new immigration subsection of the Infrastructure bill was struck down, he highlighted his appreciation for pro-immigration members of Congress like Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey who are not willing to abandon their goals of helping intending immigrants.
Senator Menendez stated that “we will now go to plan C.” It is unclear at this juncture if Plan C will include the updating of the Registry Act or if other immigration policy language will be utilized. Menendez also issued a threat to the business community saying that if Congress cannot help immigrants remain in the United States, he will oppose future immigration changes that help businesses.