Menendez: Democratic package best chance for immigration reform

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday he doubts there is a Plan B for immigration reform if attempts to include provisions through the budget process fail.

"If we don't have reconciliation I'm not sure that there's a pathway forward," Menendez told immigration advocates on a call organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition.

He added that any legislative avenue outside of reconciliation would need the support of at least 10 Republican senators, an unlikely prospect for an issue as politicized as immigration.

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"I'm beginning to realize the Republicans of 2021 are not the same Republicans I worked with in 2013 to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate," said Menendez.

"These days, most of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are more interested in punishing immigrants than they are in recognizing their incredible contributions to this country. They've learned from ex-President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE that xenophobia is a potent political tool, and they want to preserve it for the campaign season," he added.

Democrats are negotiating among themselves over a sprawling budget package that could be as large as $3.5 trillion to pass through reconciliation, a legislative tool to sidestep the possibility of a Republican filibuster.

While there has been virtually no political pushback within the party to including immigration provisions in reconciliation, the question remains whether the Senate parliamentarian will rule immigration provisions eligible for inclusion in the reconciliation bill.

Menendez is among a group of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members scheduled Thursday to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE, who has been wary to express full support for reforming immigration reform through reconciliation.

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"I've been invited to go speak to President Biden with colleagues from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on DACA, and obviously I intend to raise more than DACA," said Menendez.

Democrats like Menendez and outside advocates have pushed to include broader categories of immigrants in a reform package, including Dreamers — those undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors — and beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.

In all, the Democratic push for immigration reform could make between 5 million and 10 million people eligible for a path to citizenship.

"To the extent that we can get reconciliation, in getting immigration reform in reconciliation, I'm convinced that it will include at a minimum Dreamers, TPS, farm workers and some category of how we define essential work," said Menendez.

Still, Menendez warned that immigration reform through reconciliation will have limits, as it will likely allow Congress to grant a path to citizenship to select groups of undocumented immigrants, rather than affording blanket benefits, and it won't amend the underlying statute of the U.S. immigration system.

"That will not take all 10 or 11 million that my U.S. Citizenship Act would achieve, nor would it deal with the five- or 10-year bar necessarily and other elements of immigration reform," said Menendez, referring to the prohibitions on reentry currently imposed on immigrants who are found to have violated immigration law.