In September, Fransis Garcia traveled all the way to the nation's capital from Las Vegas to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform through the budget reconciliation process. But before she could join a scheduled march, the U.S. Senate parliamentarian rejected the effort.
On the night of Sunday Sept. 19, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough determined the Democrats' proposal to provide legal status to roughly 8 million people fell outside the boundaries of what can be done through budget reconciliation, a process that allows a simple majority to pass a bill instead of having to meet the usual 60-vote threshold.
“That lowered our morale. We were hoping for a better resolution," Garcia, a housekeeper at MGM Resorts and holder of Temporary Protected Status, said in her native Spanish. “I've gone to various marches but I think that was the one we went into with the most hope."
According to an estimate prepared by the Center for American Progress the proposed provisions could have put nearly 113,000 people in Nevada— including those brought to the U.S. as children and TPS holders— on a track to permanent residency.
The Senate's Parliamentarian is a nonpartisan, unelected individual who interprets the rules of the chamber, and whose decision can be ignored by Senate leadership or overturned by a Senate vote.
Now immigrant rights advocates in Nevada are demanding that Democrats change, ignore or overturn the Senate parliamentarian's ruling.
On Friday, a group of protestors stood outside the Federal Building on South Las Vegas Boulevard to demand Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden keep their campaign promises to provide a pathway to permanent residency to those brought to the country as children, TPS holders, essential workers and farm workers.
Activists with the National TPS Alliance and the Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center argued that the Senate parliamentarian's ruling is non-binding, adding that Democrats can't hide behind the ruling to excuse inaction on immigration reform.
“The racist opinions of the parliamentarian are a political smokescreen meant to confuse and divide us. We know that Democratic party leadership has the power to deliver permanent residency this year, and we call on them to keep their promises" said Walter Martinez, a member of the Culinary Union Local 226 and a TPS holder, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years after immigrating to the United States from El Salvador.
The tough talk underscored the frustration built up in the immigrant community after years of promises from Democrats without results.
“They know they aren't doing the right thing," said Garcia, who's lived in the U.S. for 25 years. “They're using the parliamentarian as a justification to not do the right thing. They're telling us it's her fault when they're the ones with the power in their hands."
“They owe us. During their campaign they promised a path to citizenship for TPS holders, DACA, and essential workers but they keep exploiting us."
A study released earlier this year by the Center for American Progress and the University of California, Davis, Global Migration Center found that allowing Dreamers, individuals with temporary humanitarian protections and undocumented essential workers to become permanent residents would increase the U.S. gross domestic product by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create more than 400,000 new jobs.
However, in her decision to reject a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, the Senate Parmilitarioan wrote, “the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation."
Under budget reconciliation rules, the Senate can't consider matters that are deemed “extraneous" to the budget.
Ramon Estrada, a realtor and TPS holder, disagreed with the parliamentarian's assessment. He said he pays taxes and has contributed to the country for 25 years as a construction and restaurant worker.
“We've worked for everything we have," Estrada said in Spanish. “Stop using us as puppets. If they give us residency we could contribute a lot more economically to this country."
More importantly, Estrada and his wife Maricruz Salvador haven't been able to see their children in 25 years because TPS does not automatically grant the ability to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad.
“It's not easy for me to talk about this because I haven't seen my children in 25 years and haven't been able to leave the country," Salvador said through tears. “It's really sad to be in this country alone without the support of my family."
“We're asking for support. We're asking for help," Salvador said in Spanish. “We're asking for a document so we can be free and know that we count in this country."
The group of activists agreed: the budget reconciliation is the only clear path to citizenship for millions of immigrants.
In July, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and several other Senate Democrats told Biden reconciliation was their best opportunity at passing immigration reform.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told immigration advocates “If we don't have reconciliation I'm not sure that there's a pathway forward" for immigration reforms.
Menendez told advocates he'd been involved in bipartisan talks with Republican colleagues for several months in hopes of finding common ground on immigration, however, the meetings have remained unproductive.
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