Vice President Kamala Harris made headlines on Sunday when she claimed that the besieged southern border is “secure” – but something else she said has largely flown under the radar, despite its massive implications.
Harris revealed that a mass amnesty plan for millions of illegal immigrants is still a top priority for the administration, despite the effort suffering multiple defeats.
“I think that there is no question that we have to do what the president and I asked Congress to do, the first request we made: pass a bill to create a pathway to citizenship,” Harris said on “Meet the Press,” on Sunday. “The border is secure, but we also have a broken immigration system, in particular, over the last four years before we came in, and it needs to be fixed.”
Moments later she emphasized the importance of a pathway to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally — noting that it would be for “millions of people.”
“We also have to put into place a law and a plan for a pathway for citizenship for the millions of people who are here and are prepared to do what is legally required to gain citizenship,” she said.
Recently the administration has been touting its efforts on border security — including anti-smuggling operations (including one that made 3,000 arrests in its first months) and increases in Department of Homeland Security funding — but Harris’ comments show how the efforts to see illegal immigrants given full citizenship, including voting rights, continues to be a major agenda item for the administration.
Then-candidate Joe Biden promised, if elected, to work to pass an immigration reform bill with a “roadmap for citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants” labeled as a “priority.”
The administration moved on that promise on Inauguration Day, releasing a massive immigration proposal which would become the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. That bill included what would be an eight-year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country as long as they passed certain checks.
Notably, the bill included immediate green cards (or permanent residency) for farmworkers, recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and who are protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
But the effort was thwarted as, with a 50-50 split in the Senate, any bill would require 10 Republicans to support. With a raging migrant crisis exploding at the border and minimal border security measures in the bill, no Republican would agree to support it.
Democrats then moved to bypass the need for Republican support by including immigration provisions in the Build Back Better Act, which they intended to pass through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process. That would allow them to pass the legislation with only 50 votes, meaning no Republicans would be needed if all Democrats voted in favor.
Three proposals were offered but all three were rejected by the Senate parliamentarian, and ultimately the effort failed when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., withdrew his support from the effort. A slimmed down version of Build Back Better passed this year, but it did not include any immigration provisions.
With those efforts shot down, there has been minimal effort to push for a mass amnesty by Democrats. A coalition of Democrats have introduced a bill that would change a registry to allow illegal immigrants in the country longer than seven years to gain a citizenship pathway, but it has not yet moved forward.
Immigration activists have reportedly pushed the White House on the matter, with Politico reporting in the summer that activists met with officials and accused the White House of being “publicly silent on affirmatively moving or prioritizing any immigration legislation.”
However, Harris’ comments reiterate that the White House is committed to amnesty for illegal immigrants. Her comments were followed up on Wednesday by a White House statement on National Hispanic Heritage Month backing a pathway to citizenship.
“We will continue to build a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system and fight to protect the rights of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and others who call this country home,” the statement said. “That means continuing to support a pathway to citizenship for those with temporary protected status as well as farm workers and other essential workers. ”