Bob Menendez says many families in places such as El Salvador and Honduras face a stark choice.
Do they stay and maybe get killed, see their daughter raped or son join a gang?
Their logical response is, “I’m going to flee.”
Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator via Union City and now chair of the influential Foreign Relations Committee, presented that dilemma today in joining fellow Democrats to trumpet an immigration reform bill.
This is a complicated subject, but let’s distill the gist of the bill.
Undocumented individuals living in the country as of Jan. 1, 2021 would be able to seek permanent residency, which would protect them from deportation. After five years, they could apply for citizenship. That would take an additional three years. So this would be an eight-year path to citizenship.
Additionally, the bill would protect so-called Dreamers – individuals brought to the country illegally as children – those fleeing war or natural disasters and undocumented farm workers with a stable employment history.
Another key part of the legislation would be increasing aid to relevant Central American countries in hopes of alleviating the conditions that prompt migration.
These could be the nations then-President Trump infamously called “s…hole countries.”
As you’d expect from a Democratic gathering, participants took turns lambasting Donald Trump’s immigration policies as cruel and inhumane.
“Eighty million people voted against everything Donald Trump stood for,” Menendez said.
In truth, the political forces that stopped past immigration reform efforts predate Trump.
A compromise bill somewhat similar to this latest one was approved by the Senate back in 2013 with some Republican support. It died when the more conservative GOP House refused to consider it.
Menendez acknowledged that fringe groups – some of whom decry any change as “amnesty” – have thwarted past reform efforts.
Another obstacle has been a conservative belief that any effort to help immigrants become citizens inevitably aids Democrats.
In trying to deflect that, Menendez said, “We are not owned by any one political party.”
That’s a valid point.
The Hispanic community is divided among many individual groups, not all of whom share the same political views.
Moreover, Hispanic support for Trump last fall increased over 2016 levels and was considered a key factor in the Republican carrying Florida, a battleground state.
Nevertheless, it’s still going to be a heavy lift to get needed Republican support for what would be a huge overhaul. Menendez said he’s spoken to GOP senators who like parts of the bill.
As for getting enough Republicans to support the entire bill Menendez is ready to roll the dice.
“We won’t know until we try.” he said.