I have worked on this (immigration) issue for nearly 30 years. I have introduced my own legislation. I have teamed up with champions like the the late Senator Kennedy in 2006. When I first came to the Senate I was part of the Gang of Eight that in 2013 passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill through the Senate with 68 votes.
The reason we have not gotten immigration reform over the finish line is not because of a lack of will. It is because time and time again we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who have refused to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country and dismissed everything, no matter how significant it is in terms of the national security, as amnesty.
When John Boehner, who blocked comprehensive reform from reaching the House floor, to white nationalists like Steve King and Jeff Sessions, to a manipulative mad man named Donald Trump, there will always be those who stand against immigrants, believing reform is somehow a political loss to Republicans and not a win for the United States of America.
Well, to my Republican colleagues I say this, stop pretending like you know the political outcomes of immigration reform. When it comes to the Latino vote, especially, I think this last election proved we are not owned by any one party. But we are the largest racial and ethnic minority in the country and our votes should matter more to you than those who stormed the Capitol on January 6.
And to my Democratic colleagues, who I hope will join us as co-sponsors in the coming days, and we already have many, I also have a message. We have an economic and moral imperative to pass big, bold, and inclusive immigration reform. Reform that leaves no one behind. Not our Dreamers and TPS holders, not our farmworkers and meat packers, not our essential workers and not our parents, friends and neighbors.
What the immigrant community was just put through this past four years was beyond cruel. Trump assailed Dreamers and TPS (temporary protected status) holders to strip their legal status. He slashed legal channels of immigration into our country. He stole from our military to pour billions into an ineffective border wall. And instead of addressing the root causes of migration he cut off aid to Central America. He desecrated our reputation on the world stage by imposing cruel policies that literally tore babies out of their mothers’ arms, caged children, permanently separated hundreds of families and turned Lady Liberty’s back on refugees yearning for peace, security and opportunity.
But undoing Trump’s damage and passing minor reforms is not enough. Our current system is riddled with inefficiencies and needless cruelties. Under the status quo we still prevent family members from reuniting legally in the United States because of lengthy backlogs and delays. We still send graduates educated in our great universities back to their home countries, instead of allowing them to drive innovation here in America. And we still make it too hard for companies to hire the workers they need to innovate and force American workers to compete with exploited, undocumented labor.
That is why we today, collectively are introducing the U.S. Citizenship Act in the Senate and the House. Legislation that brings to life President Biden’s plan to restore humanity and American values to our immigration system. It is our vision of what immigration reform should look like and it is a bill that we can all be proud of. It will modernize our system, offer a path to citizenship to hard-working people in our communities, reunite families, increase opportunities for legal immigration, and ensure America remains a powerhouse for innovation and a beacon of hope to refugees around the world.
I can tell you as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that I must say that beyond enhancing security and improving management of the southern border, our legislation also finally addresses the push factors, forcing so many families to flee Central America in the first place. Transnational crime, violence, corruption, poverty, lawlessness. The prior administration’s naive fixation on the wall failed to alleviate these horrific conditions. We must address the underlying root causes that is driving migration and create safer processes for those in danger to apply for asylum. That is how we stop ourselves from winding up in the exact same place down the road. And that is what this bill does.
Now, there are some in Congress, I will say in both parties, who argue against going big on immigration reform. Some still believe the answer lies in blocking all legal channels of our immigration system ’til we get our house in order. Others say we should leave the bigger, tougher, questions for another day, pursuing narrow reforms that nibble at the edges and leave millions of people behind. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with both approaches. Our system is broken. We have 11 million undocumented people living, working and raising families in our communities without legal status. These are good and decent people who believe in the promise of America down to their bones. They did not come here for handouts. They came here for hard work. And that is what they do each and every day. They work really hard. They pick our fruit, they pack our meat, they keep our food supplies strong even in times of crisis like this pandemic. They are essential workers. So essential that our economy would not function without them. Yet they live under constant fear of deportation. It is time to bring all 11 million undocumented out of the shadows. Give them the opportunity to pass criminal background and national security checks. Secure lawful, prospective immigrant status and eventually apply for green cards after eight years in which they begin the process.
The bill provides an expedited path for Dreamers, TPS holders and farmworkers. I love our Dreamers, they are as American as apple pie. In New Jersey alone there are about 9,000 U.S. born citizen children who are call a TPS holder mom or Dad. And nationwide at least 5.9 million American children have an undocumented parent. This legislation lives up to the conviction that families belong together.
And finally to those who want to call this bill amnesty, I know there are some, ten angels could come swearing from above that this is the best tailored legislation, that it will secure our border, regularize our system and they would say no, it is amnesty. They will never be satisfied. To these politicians and pundits who preach xenophobia and hate, I say this: preserving the status quo deprives our country of the economic benefits that come with inclusive and lasting immigration reform. CBO economists project that the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill I helped write would have reduced the deficit by $850 billion over 20 years. It would have grown our economy by nearly one and a half trillion dollars within a decade. And it would have added $300 billion to the social security trust fund while raising wages for all American workers.
So, I know that many are thinking, does this bill have any chance of passing the Senate with 60 votes. The answer is we won’t know until we try. We Democrats are putting forward President Biden’s vision for immigration reform because we believe it is the right vision for immigration reform. We know the path forward will demand negotiations with others. But we are not going to make concessions out of the gate. We are not going to start with two million undocumented people instead of 11 million. We will never win an argument that we don’t have the courage to make.
We will do the righteous thing and make our case for bold, inclusive and lasting immigration reform. And we will have, as we have seen in poll after poll, the vast majority of Americans standing with us. We have to stand up for what we believe in and see what the path unfolds as we move this legislation forward. That does not mean that it is all or nothing. But it certainly means that we are looking for robust immigration reform. And I am proud to have a distinguished group of colleagues in major positions to make this happen, on both sides of the capital.
Editor’s Note: The above remarks were made by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey during a recent webinar he and congressional colleagues held to introduce the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.
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