After BBB Act rejected, million of Indians clueless on green card backlog

Ritu Jha-

The year 2021 ends on an uncertain note for the millions of Indian families in the US, who are mired in a decades-long wait for a green card.

On Thursday, Dec 16, the US Senate Parliamentarian rejected the ‘Plan C’ for immigration reforms that were part of the $ 2.2 trillion spending package, known as the Build Back Better (BBB) Act; it leaves over 1.2 million Indians in the US, who are stuck in a decades-long wait for a green card, without an answer.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) (H.R. 5376) by a vote of 220–213, on November 19, provided for recapturing of family and employment-based green card numbers that were unused from 1992 through 2021.

It was estimated that this provision would prevent the loss of thousands of unused family-based green cards and nearly 1 million odd employment-based green cards that expired as of September 30, this year.

A significant number of Indians would benefit by this and other measures, which entailed paying a supplement fee and jumping the green-card queue or the country-specific numeric limits.

For those who are undocumented, the BBB Act provided for work permits and protection from deportation for eligible individuals for five years, renewable once for a total of ten years. This parole mechanism was expected to cover 7 million people.

According to “Section 60001 of the BBB Act includes language that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to permit foreign nationals, documented and undocumented, to apply for adjustment of status after payment of a supplemental fee of $1,500 and completing a background check with a medical examination.”

Under BBB Act, the following individuals would qualify for permanent residency: Dreamers; Essential Workers (including farmworkers, healthcare, energy, transportation, public works, and manufacturing workers); Temporary Protected Status holders; and Deferred Enforcement Departure recipients.

According to CNBC: The official who interprets the Senate’s rules said Democrats can’t include a provision in President Biden’s social spending plan that would offer work permits to unauthorized immigrants.

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said a plan to allow 6.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status to apply for work permits and protection from deportation could not be passed through the budget reconciliation process. The procedure allows bills to be approved by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold needed to pass most legislation.

MacDonough had previously rejected two plans from Democrats on immigration reform, and this third plan would have granted 6.5 million foreign nationals a temporary parole status that would give them five-year work and travel permits, The Hill reported.

Explaining and sharing his thoughts on the BBB Act failure, Tejas Shah, an immigration attorney and former president, Indian American Bar Association of Chicago told indica, when asked its impact on the Green Card backlog said, that the Senate Parliamentarian most recently commented on the parole component of BBB – that is separate from the green card recapture provisions that are of intense interest to the Indian and South Asian communities.

“Certainly, the Parliamentarian’s decision on the parole provisions is extremely disappointing and will harm all communities, including South Asians – however, the green card recapture provisions still remain viable and neither the Parliamentarian nor Senators have made any final decisions about including them in BBB, as best we understand,” Shah said. “Given these details, I would encourage trade associations and individuals to continue advocating for the inclusion of these provisions in the BBB bill.”

Shah, however, sounded optimistic about 2022, said, “In terms of my level of optimism for 2022, it is hard not to feel discouraged by some of the defeats of 2021. However, the fight for immigration reform is a long road and we cannot afford to give up – it is critical that we continue fighting for progress and justice in 2022.”

President Biden in his statement on BBB Act said on Dec. 16 he had a discussion with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin about Build Back Better. “Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.”

“In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September. I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition,” Biden stated.

US Tech Workers, a non-profit composed of American workers, has tweeted that “The Parliamentarian has not commented about the green card recapture provision. It’s highly unlikely Democrats would allow immigration provisions that benefit Big Tech to pass alone without amnesty for illegal aliens. It’s all or nothing for them.”

Meanwhile, immigration attorneys are voicing their views that the Democrat Senators should push through the provisions relating to green card recapture or that the Parliamentarian’s view (which is advisory in nature) should be bypassed.

For now, it is unclear what the future holds for the lakhs of Indians caught in the green card backlog.