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Democrats are making a 3rd attempt at immigration reform using a social spending bill

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Yet again, congressional Democrats are trying for immigration reform through a partisan social spending bill, and it's a long shot. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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NANCY PELOSI: I think we're finding our common ground, and what is in the bill has good resonance. Others want more; so do I. I want it all. But you don't get it all.

CORNISH: For several months, lawmakers have been blocked from including the effort in their spending bill and still face tough odds. Joining us to walk through it is NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Welcome back.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Talk to me about these immigration provisions. What are they hoping to consider now?

GRISALES: Well, the current social spending bill includes work permits for any immigrant in the United States before 2011. It also makes unused family or employment-based visas available again, and it reduces immigration backlogs, among other efforts. But it's unclear whether any of these will go through in the final version of this bill.

CORNISH: They've had a couple of attempts at this before, right? What happened?

GRISALES: Exactly, yes. Democrats have pitched immigration reform plans twice to the Senate parliamentarian. This is the chamber's referee, if you will. And both times, they've been rejected. In the first attempt, Democrats proposed a pathway to citizenship for 8 million immigrants. And in the second, they tried to give millions legal residency through a so-called registry provision. Now, this registry option was also part of a proposal from President Biden last week. But because of its previous rejection by the parliamentarian, Pelosi said it's out of the bill for now.

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PELOSI: It doesn't seem to have a big prospect in the Senate, so we don't want to ask members to vote for something that wouldn't have a good prospect on the Senate that is controversial.

CORNISH: Can I ask about something the speaker has said there, the idea of it being controversial? What concerns are being put forth about this?

GRISALES: Well, one is putting moderate Democrats in the House in a tricky position if they vote for a more expansive program like registry and yet it's still doomed to fail in the Senate. Meanwhile, she's hearing from some pro-immigration members that maybe even this current proposal does not go far enough. But some advocates think that they've hit the sweet spot here and say this is their best shot to get past the parliamentarian. But we should note that the challenge largely lands on Democrats proving this has a budgetary impact, and we don't know what that is yet. And that's what's required of this bill since it has to go through a reconciliation process. And so far, the parliamentarian has said these proposals go too far into policy and not enough to provide a direct budget impact.

CORNISH: Not to get too far into the weeds here, but if the Senate parliamentarian, the rule maker - right? - has already said twice these efforts don't pass muster, why try again?

GRISALES: Well, what I've heard from immigration advocates is that this is part of a long, drawn out process of continually trying again and again until they can get to a yes. They've also argued to me that immigrants deserve nothing less, especially after the sacrifices they made during the pandemic. And it's a political and moral imperative. They've also warned, and some members seem to be aware, that there's a huge political risk here, and if they do not get this done, they could face backlash. Finally, there's also an advantage here for members to show how hard they fought to get this done, even if they don't get to that ultimate yes.

CORNISH: And next steps.

GRISALES: Now, the House Democrats are in the midst of looking at whether they can land this spending bill with this immigration provision intact or if they need to go back to the drawing board once again and see if they can get the support they need to get it passed on the floor. But regardless, Senate Democrats are watching this process closely, and it will dictate whether they can try a third time before the Senate parliamentarian, with perhaps hopes that the third time is the charm.

CORNISH: That's congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks for your time.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.