U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, speaks at a news conference Nov. 18, 2021, advocating for immigration provisions in the Democrats’ social spending bill. (Photo by Ariana Figueroa/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — Undocumented workers and immigration advocates are pushing for Democrats to keep work permits and protections from deportations in the final version of the $1.85 trillion social spending and climate package that the U.S. House is set to vote on as soon as Thursday night.
Those immigration provisions face elimination when the bill moves to the Senate, due to the budget rules governing the process there.
At a Thursday press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, Guillermo Garcia, a member of the United Farm Workers, said that throughout the pandemic, he was an essential worker who picked vegetables and fruit in California.
For more than a year, essential workers were on the front lines of the pandemic, many of them undocumented people who were not able to receive any benefits from the pandemic relief packages passed by Congress such as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits — all because of their immigration status.
“Legalization, and these work permits, will give us the opportunity to work without fear,” Garcia said in Spanish.
Without work permits, undocumented people are not allowed back into the United States if they go back to their home countries to see family. Garcia said that he was not able to visit his father, who was sick and died in September.
“I lost the hope to see him alive, but I don’t lose hope to have a work permit to be able to see the rest of my family,” he said.
Shortly after the press conference, the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate of the immigration provisions included under the Judiciary Committee section of the House version of the social spending bill, known as Build Back Better.
Those sections would add $121.7 billion to the deficit for the fiscal year 2022 to 2023, the CBO said.
The CBO noted that the cost over the following decade would be greater, “resulting in an increase in the unified deficit totaling $369 billion over the 2032-2041 period.”
The Biden administration included $100 billion in the package, known as Build Back Better, to help with legal backlogs and processing at the border.
Texas Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar said they were not satisfied with the immigration provisions in the House bill and were frustrated that they could not also include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented essential workers.
Escobar said the bill language is “absolutely inadequate,” but the legislation has to get through the House.
“So while this is not everything that we have, let me tell you that I will take it and run with it and not stop until we get everything that we need for these precious souls.”
Immigration provisions face procedural barriers
Democrats have tried to include broader immigration provisions in the sweeping social safety net package, but their attempts to include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people so far have been rejected by the Senate parliamentarian.
The work permits and deportation protections in the House bill could be removed in the Senate’s version of Build Back Better.
The Senate will take up the legislation after House passage, and it’s expected to undergo major revisions. Democrats are advancing the bill through a process called reconciliation, which means they only need a simple majority vote in the evenly divided Senate but also makes the legislation subject to various budget rules.
Maria Ana Vasquez, a Temporary Protected Status recipient, is an essential worker in Washington, D.C. She said at the press conference that she is pushing Congress to create a legal pathway for citizenship.
“The government said that I am an essential worker and because of me, the office buildings in this city are clean,” she said in Spanish.
She said the harsh disinfectants she had to use have hurt her hands and have given her headaches.
“I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore and I felt tormented because of all the pain, but despite everything, I showed up to work,” Vasquez said. “That’s why we’re asking Congress to take this first step and get these legal right to work permits.”
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