Democrats’ attempts to provide a path to citizenship for 8 million undocumented immigrants hit a roadblock in mid-September when the U.S. Senate parliamentarian ruled an immigration proposal could not be included in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill.
It’s a disappointing setback for passing immigration legislation before the end of the year, and especially to many immigrants’ hopes. However, Democrats still have options for offering revised proposals as part of the budget bill or resuming negotiations with Republicans.
Limited reforms could still be in the works
Democrats are currently working on alternative immigration proposals to present to the parliamentarian, including:
Update the immigration registry
Under a provision in U.S. immigration law called “registry”, certain non-citizens can apply to “register” as lawful permanent residents of the United States if they last entered prior to a specific date, can demonstrate good moral character, and have had continuous residence since their last entry. Registry was created in 1929 and since that date, Congress has advanced the registry date four times. The current registry date, January 1, 1972, was set by Congress in 1986. The registry date has not been advanced since then.
Between 2015 and 2019, only 305 people were able to achieve permanent status through registry.
If the date was set to Jan. 1, 2010, nearly 6.7 million non-citizens could be eligible to register for lawful permanent residence. Immigration advocates say it should be set to 2015 to include those covered under the DREAM Act or essential workers who arrived more recently.
One other option floated is to set a “rolling” cutoff date that would be advanced each year or to set an eligibility standard based on the number of years a person has lived continuously in the U.S.
Revise Section 245(i)
Democrats could also update this section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, allowing family members or employers to apply for green cards for undocumented immigrants who entered the United States unlawfully and are otherwise eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status inside the country. Right now, the law is rarely used because it only accepts applications filed before April 30, 2001.
Changing the date could have enormous implications as over 8 million U.S. citizens have at least one undocumented family member living in their home.
‘Recapturing’ green cards
Hundreds of thousands of green cards have gone to waste due to processing delays since 1992, and the backlog has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Democrats could add a provision that allows the U.S. to recapture previously unused green cards. This year, about a quarter of a million will likely be wasted.