But on Sunday, the Senate parliamentarian, evaluating whether the immigration measure was sufficiently budget-related for a package Democrats want to pass in a process called reconciliation to avoid a GOP filibuster, advised against it, ruling that it was “not appropriate” for inclusion.
Mena disagreed with that assessment. He said he pays taxes with an IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) because he is unable to receive a Social Security number, and he has continued to work in construction during the pandemic as an “essential worker” doing waterproofing.
On Tuesday, Mena stood at the front of a crowd of thousands of immigrants and supporters from across the country in Washington to push back, demanding that Congress include a pathway to citizenship in the budget package and emphasizing the crucial role of immigrants in the U.S. economy.
“We are contributing to the economy, and we already prove it,” said Mena, 40, of Reisterstown, Md., who is the sole provider for his pregnant wife; children ages 15, 9 and 19 months; and mother-in-law. “We’re valuable here to pay taxes. We’re valuable here to help build the economy, and they even call us ‘essential.’ ”
Democrats planned to create a path to legal residency and then U.S. citizenship for as many as 8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country by including the measure in their budget reconciliation package because it requires only a simple majority to pass, allowing them to push it through without Republican support.
However, parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan arbiter of the Senate’s rules, said that granting legal residency to millions of immigrants would be a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.” Republicans applauded the decision, while Senate Democrats and immigrant advocates said they would keep pushing immigration reform in the budget plan and explore alternative proposals.
Demonstrators called out the parliamentarian’s ruling specifically in speeches and signs during the “Welcome Back Congress — March for Citizenship, Care, and Climate” rally. They also pressed Congress to pass ambitious climate legislation and support caregivers like domestic workers, arguing these issues disproportionately affect communities of color.
Protesters included immigrants with temporary protected status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) recipients and people who are undocumented, all demanding that the Biden administration and congressional Democrats deliver on a pathway to citizenship. They marched from Benjamin Banneker Park, by the Potomac River, to the headquarters of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and finally the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
Outside ICE headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, someone in the crowd began playing the Spanish/Portuguese hit song “Danza Kuduro,” and Maria Ana Bolanos , 57, started to move. She banged on a pot with a drumstick to the beat. A crowd formed a circle around the mother of four from Annandale, Va., and cheered as she danced in front of the headquarters of the agency that has deported many undocumented immigrants.
Bolanos, who is from El Salvador, wore a shirt that read “CASA,” a Latino and immigrant organization that was one of many behind the march, as well as the phrase “¡Sí, se puede!,” Spanish for “Yes, we can!”
After dancing in the streets in the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Bolanos said she felt “happy and powerful.”
For four years under the Trump administration, Luis Aguilar, the Virginia director for CASA, said immigrants felt like “enemies of the country.” President Donald Trump tried to wall off the United States with physical barricades across borderlands and directives that separated migrant children from parents. The government, Aguilar said, did as much as possible to “remove” and “silence” immigrants.
At least now, Aguilar said, under the Biden administration, he feels the community can protest for a potential solution. He said a pathway to citizenship should be included in the budget reconciliation package because of the ways immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy, and he rejected the parliamentarian’s ruling.
“If our futures here had no economic impact … then we would not be taxed,” Aguilar said. “It’s another signaling that this population is invisible to this society.”
Maria Chavalan Sut, an Indigenous Mayan woman from Guatemala and mother of four, sat on the grass as speakers took the stage outside the Capitol. The 47-year-old thought of her own journey to seek asylum in the United States: how it started with ICE detention, a missed court date she never knew she had, an ankle monitor and the threat of deportation, before she was finally given sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville on Sept. 30, 2018.
She doesn’t want leaders to forget about the undocumented immigrants who sheltered in sanctuary churches for years under Trump, like she did, and hopes they pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for everyone.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through the injustices that I went through,” she said.
Minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke to the crowd outside the Capitol and promised to keep fighting for a pathway to citizenship. As he left, protesters chanted, “Do your job! Do your job!”
A majority of Americans, 69 percent, believe there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States if they meet certain requirements, according to a May Pew Research Center poll. There’s still a partisan split, the poll shows, with 86 percent of Democrats in support but just 48 percent of Republicans.
Although MacDonough, the parliamentarian, ruled against including these immigration measures in the budget package, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said at the rally that Schumer and the White House “can disregard the advice of the parliamentarian, and they must.”
“This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the right thing and create an immigration system that brings humanity to the forefront,” Omar said.