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Schumer Readies Plan B to Push Immigration Changes Unilaterally

“Before we can do anything meaningful on immigration, we’re going to have to deal with the current crisis at the border,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who has been involved in the bipartisan talks. “I don’t think the public is going to tolerate us ignoring this crisis, and it’s just going to get worse unless we deal with it.”

As for moving Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda through reconciliation, he said: “I think they’re dreaming; I don’t think the parliamentarian will allow that. That’s not really the purpose of reconciliation.”

To pull it off, Democrats would have to grapple with strict budget rules that limit what can be done under reconciliation. They require that any policy change included must have a budgetary impact that is more than merely incidental. Other measures favored by liberal activists, such a federal minimum-wage increase to $15 per hour, have been nixed from a reconciliation package by the Senate parliamentarian, the ultimate arbiter of the rules, for failing to meet that bar.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, recently said that the reconciliation process could be used at least once more during this fiscal year. That ruling was widely seen as paving the way for Democrats to advance Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill using the fast-track process. It also set progressive activists to thinking about what else they could push through, including measures to address climate change, expand Medicare and revamp the immigration system.

A team of immigration activists and researchers as well as congressional aides is exploring the question, digging into the best way to present their case to Ms. MacDonough, who declined to comment for this article. They have found past precedents, including one from 2005, in which changes to immigration policy were allowed as part of a budget-reconciliation package, and they are tallying up the budgetary effects of the immigration proposals — which total in the tens of billions.

Researchers have dredged up supportive quotes from Republicans from 2005, when they won signoff for including a measure to recapture unused visas for high-skilled workers in a reconciliation package. Mr. Cornyn praised the move at the time as a way to “keep jobs here in America, rather than export them to places like India and China.”

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