Democrats’ push for amnesty for illegal immigrants on back burner after multiple defeats

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A push by Democratic lawmakers and activists to grant a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, which saw significant political weight put behind it in 2021, has been put on the back burner in 2022 after the effort saw multiple defeats last year.

When campaigning in 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to work with Congress on a massive immigration reform bill “with a priority on keeping families together by providing a roadmap for citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

Almost immediately on entering office, the Biden administration released a sweeping immigration proposal – which would eventually become the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. 

That proposal included a brisk eight-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, as well as immediate green card eligibility for farmworkers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks with immigrants before transporting some of them to a processing center on Dec. 9, 2021, in Yuma, Arizona.
(John Moore/Getty Images)

However, the bill – which included a host of other immigration-related measures – quickly died as it became clear the measure, which included minimal border security provisions, did not have any Republican support amid a growing crisis at the southern border that to date has still not abated.

With no Republican support, Democrats looked to include various amnesty provisions in the Build Back Better Act that they were seeking to pass via the budget reconciliation process – and would therefore only need 50 votes.

Democrats put forward a variety of proposals, from a pathway to citizenship for “essential workers” to updating a decades-old registry. All plans were rejected by the Senate parliamentarian for being inappropriate for a budget bill. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would later crucially state his opposition to amnesty without border security, and eventually withdraw his support from the package altogether.

But with 2022 into its second half, there has been little sign of a significant push to get any form of amnesty over the line. Notably, the slimmed-down climate and health care package that passed via budget reconciliation and was signed by President Biden earlier this month contained no immigration provisions.

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The Biden administration has made a number of immigration moves itself, including attempting to shorten the asylum process, offering pathways to citizenship for Afghan evacuees – and this week strengthening the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In the House, pieces of legislation to grant farmworkers and DACA recipients citizenship pathways have passed the House, but neither are likely to pass the Senate in its current state – and both fall short of the sweeping amnesties that advocates have lobbied for. Earlier this year a coalition of Democrats introduced a bill to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been in the country for more than seven years, but it has so far yet to gain any ground.

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The midterms could change the outlook for chances of amnesty provisions. Should Republicans take the House in January, it would almost certainly kill off any chances of a broad amnesty taking place. Amnesty pushes have not featured in Democratic talking points ahead of elections. In fact, a report earlier this year said that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents told lawmakers that they should deny support for “open borders or amnesty” and instead talk about their efforts to keep the border safe.

FILE - In this June 18, 2020, file photo, people hold signs during a vehicle caravan rally to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.

FILE – In this June 18, 2020, file photo, people hold signs during a vehicle caravan rally to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

Recently, left-wing immigration advocates met with officials at the White House. Politico reported that the groups warned that time was running out ahead of November and that the “political environment has worsened.”

“While all of this has been going on, our members have been patiently waiting and pushing for permanent immigration relief, knowing that time is running out,” the group said in a statement reported by the outlet. “The White House, on the other hand, has been publicly silent on affirmatively moving or prioritizing any immigration legislation.”

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Meanwhile, Republicans have shown little interest in any immigration deal that includes amnesty. House Republican leadership has ruled out amnesty, while Senators typically open to talks have dismissed the chances of a deal any time soon until the raging border crisis is dealt with.

“A group of senators previously held discussions that were exclusively focused on border security and stopping the abuse of our nation’s asylum laws,” Sen. Thom Tillis’, R-N.C., office told Fox News Digital in June after Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said talks had restarted on an immigration deal. “However, until the Biden-Harris administration starts to enforce immigration laws and finally takes some action to end the crisis at the border that they created, there is not much to negotiate.” 

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