WASHINGTON – Good morning. I am Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey.
This week President Bush went to the U.S.-Mexico border, once again, to talk about immigration. He held a photo op with border patrol agents and spoke in general about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Yet he offered nothing new, no details, and therefore no signs of progress.
Democrats welcome President Bush's engagement in this vital issue. We agree wholeheartedly with him on the need to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way. Yet, as in every major policy issue, the devil is in the details.
While President Bush keeps sticking to generalities and sound bites, his aides have circulated a draft immigration proposal to Members of Congress that contains many problematic provisions that are impractical and unworkable.
When President Bush said in Arizona on Monday that "family values don't stop at the Rio Grande," he failed to mention that his latest immigration proposal would do just the opposite. Under Bush's plan, new guest workers would be separated from their children and spouses as they will not be allowed to enter lawfully with the worker. And as if this was not enough, and for the first time since 1965, U.S. citizens would no longer be able to reunite with their siblings or adult children from outside the country. This flies in the face of the family values Republicans say they defend.
President Bush's proposal would also require undocumented immigrants to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees in order to legalize their status, imposing an often impossible financial burden on hard working immigrant families struggling to put food on their tables and holding onto the dream of earning citizenship. Under this scheme, a typical family of five would have to pay up to $64,000 in fees and would have to wait up to 30 years in order to finally become U.S. citizens.
This is not acceptable. This is very different from the bi-partisan approach which passed the Senate last year and which we should work to improve and approve this year. We hope that this won't be the White House's final proposal, but it unnecessarily delays the process of getting a bill approved and signed into law as soon as possible. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reserved the last two weeks of May to debate and gain Senate approval of an immigration reform bill. Democrats have a majority of 51 votes in the Senate. But, in order to approve any controversial bill here, we need 60 votes. For that to be accomplished, however, President Bush must stop trying to placate the extreme right wing of his Republican party and must show true leadership so we can get the job done right.
Senate Democrats are hopeful that we can find common ground and get a bipartisan bill through Congress this year. Democrats will support a bill that: enhances security at our borders, provides a pathway to earned citizenship for the undocumented, strengthens employer sanctions to prevent abuse, creates a new worker program, and reunites families. This is the type of bill we are working to approve and we hope that sensible Republicans will join us in this vital effort to fix this urgent problem for our country.
I am Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey. Thank you for listening.