Senate Democrats face a stark choice on immigration: improve the lives of millions of immigrants by giving them a path to legal residency — a move that would also prove a boon to the nation's economy — or hide behind a procedural recommendation and expose their rhetoric as empty promises.
It shouldn't be hard to make the right call.
The Senate parliamentarian determined last week that the Democrats' proposal to provide legal status to roughly 8 million people falls 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.
But the parliamentarian's decision is only advice, an interpretation by the nonpartisan referee of the Senate's rules, and it can be ignored or overturned. Left with no other choice, the Senate Democratic majority must do just that.
Dismissing that advice is not a decision to be made lightly, of course, but it has happened before — most recently when Republicans removed the 60-vote threshold for voting on Supreme Court nominees when they controlled the chamber. Immigration reform is worth the risk.
The Democrats' plan would allow several categories of people who are in the U.S. illegally to apply for permanent residency, including those brought to the United States as children, known as "Dreamers."
It's also expected to impact immigrants who have been granted Temporary Protected Status due to dangerous conditions in their home countries, those with temporary work visas, farmworkers and other essential workers.
The measure not only would provide immigrants who are a vital part of our communities with peace of mind and help keep families together, it would also have widespread benefits to the United States.
In a letter sent to congressional leadership, a group of economists stressed how reform would increase wages and productivity, create jobs, generate additional tax revenue and strengthen worker protections for immigrant and nonimmigrant workers alike.
The current proposal is the best chance to enact change, as the 2022 midterm elections threaten Democratic control of Congress. Regardless that polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, Congress has repeatedly failed to act.
The last major effort to effect bipartisan immigration reform was in 2013, when a proposal passed the Senate but died in the House. Since then, the GOP shift to a hard-line attitude on immigration, spearheaded by former President Donald Trump, has made prospects dim further.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are disappointed with the parliamentarian's decision and that they will be holding additional meetings with alternate proposals.
"The American people understand that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral and economic imperative," Schumer said in a statement.
The majority of American people do understand, but it's up to Democrats to stick to the courage of their convictions and take a stand. The parliamentarian is not an elected official, they are.
Democrats made a promise. They need to deliver.