Like a jack-o’-lantern left out long after Halloween, undocumented immigrants’ hopes for a robust pathway to permanent status have pitiably deflated over several weeks as negotiations drag on over President Biden’s Build Back Better framework.
Earlier versions would have opened up the possibility of citizenship for millions of immigrants who currently fall under the ever-uncertain DACA and Temporary Protected Status programs, as well as farmworkers and the essential workers who kept the country running during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan procedural adviser to the legislative body, balked at the provision, and it was taken out. A subsequent effort to update a legal mechanism known as registry, which has been on the books for a century and could allow longtime undocumented immigrants to apply for residency, met the same fate.
Now, it’s onto Plan C, which involves allowing the roughly 7 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country since the beginning of 2011 to obtain a designation of humanitarian parole. The temporary classification allows the federal government to, on a case-by-case basis, grant individuals protection from deportation and work authorizations.
Even though it is kicking the can down a rocky road — like DACA and TPS, this program leads to no permanent status — it is no small thing for millions of people to breathe easier knowing they can’t be whisked off the street with ease, and have the ability to work freely. It will also allow many to pursue regularization through other means, such as through family, without having to leave the country and potentially trigger a re-entry ban.
There are other positive under-the-radar ideas, like an effort to recapture green cards that went unused in recent fiscal years, and permit some workers in often decades-long residency backlogs to pay a fee to finally obtain their green cards. These measures are not perfect, but they are a significant step forward. Senate Democrats should endeavor to keep them in the final bill.
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