Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on Friday said it was personally “painful” for him to vote for the “border surge” amendment which aided passage of immigration reform in the Senate, but expressed optimism that the Gang of Eight’s bill was a crucial step towards resolving the contentious issue.
“It was painful to me, and not only in the sense that I believe that it’s a bad policy, as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, I believe that it’s a bad policy regarding neighboring countries,” said Menendez in an interview with Univision, according to a transcript.
Supporters of the bipartisan measure were able to pull additional GOP support after an amendment from Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) which amended the legislation to authorize the hiring of 20,000 more patrol agents and the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Many GOP lawmakers had insisted on tougher border enforcement measures before signing on to any immigration proposal.
Menendez, who helped craft the bipartisan deal as a member of the Gang of Eight, said he accepted the changes to prevent losing another opportunity to enact immigration reform.
After 20 years … of fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, I was tired of trying to get what’s ideal and keeping millions of people in the dark and without a path to legalization and citizenship,” said Menendez. “So I accepted some difficult decisions to promote the chance for millions who work out in the open but live in hiding to finally live their lives completely in the open.”
Menendez said the strong 68-vote support should help build momentum for reform in the GOP-controlled House, but conceded legislation faced an uphill climb there.
“Well, that’s the struggle now. And I believe that a bipartisan vote, more than two thirds of the U.S. Senate voting for this law, sends a very clear message to the House Republican leaders,” he said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House will not take up the Senate bill, instead working on its own measures. He has also vowed not to move legislation that doesn’t have the support of a majority of the GOP conference.
Menendez said there would be support for immigration reform with ah pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants among Democrats and centrist Republicans in the House.
He said he hoped the House would act next month, but expected a delay.
“I’d like for the House to respond in July, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. That means that when they come back after the August recess, there must be pressure in September, and I’d like to see it at the end of September, starting … in October, before the end of the year,” he said.