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Democrats blocked from including immigration legalization in spending bill

In a long-shot bid, Senate Democrats tried to include immigration in a massive spending bill to circumvent a Republican filibuster.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats hit a roadblock Sunday in their effort to slip an overhaul of the country's immigration laws into a spending bill that can pass without Republican support, according to a document obtained by NBC News.

Democrats had hoped to include legislation that would grant a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million undocumented people in their sweeping tax and spending bill. But their effort to circumvent the filibuster hit a roadblock.

Democrats sought to provide a pathway to citizenship for beneficiaries of the DACA program, farmworkers, essential workers who aided during the coronavirus pandemic and recipients of temporary protected status.

Getting immigration policy into the sweeping $3.5 trillion package has always been a long shot. Previous efforts to overhaul immigration laws have failed — even provisions that are popular, like providing a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to the decision by promising to try again, saying Democrats would appeal to the nonpartisan parliamentarian, who decides which provisions are allowed in the spending bill.

"We are deeply disappointed in this decision but the fight to provide lawful status for immigrants in budget reconciliation continues. Senate Democrats have prepared alternate proposals and will be holding additional meetings with the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days," he said in a statement.

Senate rules permit including provisions related only to taxing and spending in so-called reconciliation bills, which can pass the Senate with a simple majority, thus avoiding the 60-vote filibuster. Democrats could try to circumvent the parliamentarian, but doing so would be unusual, and it is unlikely.

The parliamentarian argued that the proposed changes to immigration law are "policy changes" and that the budget impact was only incidental, saying it was "not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation."

"Changing the law to clear the way to LPR [lawful permanent resident] status is tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact," the parliamentarian said.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.