A Huge Leap Backward
He was a key negotiator in the closed-door Senate meetings that produced an immigration reform agreement with the White House last week. But in the end, in good conscience, he could not go along with it.
And that makes me proud to say, I voted for him. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is my U.S. senator.
In the end, Menendez couldn't bend far enough to accommodate the demands of Republicans, who took the bill too far to the right and began to dismantle the most basic humanitarian principles of our immigration system.
"There are certain issues where too much bend would create an impractical and ineffective immigration system," said Menendez, moments after the Senate-White House deal was announced. "Unfortunately, that is what I believe will occur under the agreement announced earlier this afternoon."
Some Democrats are so anxious to pass some kind of reform, simply for political expediency, that they have been willing to accept changes that make the bill unrealistic, unenforceable and unacceptable.
It includes a legalization plan for illegal immigrants, but it makes them jump through too many hoops and wait too many years before they can acquire green cards and become citizens. It punishes even legal immigrants, who may have to wait much longer in order to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the United States. Legal immigrants would also lose some government services in their native languages, since this bill would make English the nation's official language.
"I, for one, cannot settle for something that isn't responsible, or something that creates a bigger problem than already exists," Menendez said. "It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be fair, humane and practical."
And he is right. The deal they finally agreed on is none of the above.
The proposed legislation, to be debated in the Senate this week, shifts the primary basis for granting visas to immigrate to this country legally. Instead of favoring immigrants who have family ties to legal U.S. residents, future visas would be based on work skills.
Menendez said the proposed legislation "tears at the fabric of family reunification by limiting and eliminating the ability of U.S.
He said the bill also includes a temporary worker program that denies the workers the option to seek permanent U.S. residency, creating a new class of exploited workers and sending "the message that there are people who are good enough to work here but not good enough to stay." He said many of these workers would eventually stay here illegally and "create another undocumented workforce."
Of course, these provisions also say a lot about how Republican hardliners feel about legal immigration. They claim their problem is with illegal immigration, but then they push legislation that would block the permanent residency of even the people who come here legally to work.
Menendez said the proposed legislation would also impose unaffordable fines on the illegal immigrants who would seek legalization.
"We all support fines for those who broke the law, but the fines they proposed are prohibitive and make the pathway to legalization a path in name only," Menendez said, noting that a family of four would have to pay $10,000 in fines and fees, not including the cost of the roundtrip to their country of origin that would be required of the head of the household to file their application for legal permanent resident status.
The hoops are too high and too many — and Menendez said he saw them coming.
"I will say that a large part of the problem in getting agreement this year was the administration's proposal, which acted as a marker in negotiations," Menendez said. "From the minute I saw their proposal, it was clear: They were no longer where they were last year on this issue."
He said White House and Senate Republicans "decided to radically alter their views and began the process this year with a far more impractical, far more partisan and far more cynical proposal" than the one passed by the Senate last year.
"Generally speaking," Menendez added, "the administration didn't tiptoe away from last year's bipartisan position — they took a huge leap backwards."
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