Democrats suffered a major blow when the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, decided that they could not include immigration provisions in their $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. According to MacDonough, the effect that the immigration provisions would have on the budget would be incidental to their overall policy effect.

The rejected provisions would have provided legalization for undocumented immigrants who were brought here illegally as children, often called “Dreamers;” undocumented immigrants with Temporary Protected Status; and undocumented essential workers. This would have made lawful status available to more than 8 million undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) claims that there is another option, which is to narrow the immigration reform provisions such that Democrats can navigate it through the Senate's Byzantine rules. He thinks this can be done with an update to the registry provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Registry is a process that permits undocumented immigrants to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) on the basis of their long-standing presence in the country, regardless of their status or the way they entered the country.

I don’t think updating the registry provision will be acceptable to MacDonough either — It’s just another way to legalize undocumented immigrants.

But it might be possible to move a registry update through the regular legislative process. The registry process has been in place for nearly a century. It reflects our nation’s historical sense of fairness to allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for a very long time an opportunity to obtain legal status, and it hasn’t been updated since 1986.

The provision

The registry provision, which was established in 1929 by section 249 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), permits undocumented aliens to establish a record of lawful admission for permanent residence if they are not inadmissible under section 212(a)(3)(E) (which bars those who participated in Nazi persecution, genocide, or the commission of any act of torture or extrajudicial killing) or under section 212(a) insofar as it relates to criminals, procurers and other immoral persons, subversives, violators of narcotic laws, or alien smuggling, and the applicant—

1. Entered the United States prior to Jan. 1, 1972;

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Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at