President Joe Biden has tapped New Jersey’s senior Sen. Bob Menendez to lead immigration reform efforts in Congress. Menendez is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, including nearly a half-million in New Jersey.
“It’s probably the most comprehensive immigration bill I’ve seen in my 20 years of trying to seek reform.” Menendez said.
The bill, titled the “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021,” allows immigrants without legal status to apply for green cards after five years if they pass background checks and pay taxes. DACA recipients, those with temporary protected status and immigrant farmworkers who meet certain criteria would be eligible for green cards immediately. After three years, green card holders can apply to be citizens. Applicants must be present in the U.S. on or before Jan. 1 2021.
On his first day in office, Biden signed a flurry of executive orders putting an end to Trump-era immigration policies, including a ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries and funding for a wall at the southern border. But not all changes can be made with the stroke of a pen.
And in a Congress that Democrats hold by the slimmest of margins, Menendez has his work cut out for him to convince enough Republicans to vote in favor.
“Reform is a moral question, it’s a national security question and it’s an economic question,” Menendez said. “I think there are a lot of arguments for our Republican colleagues.”
It’s not the first time Menendez has led efforts for an immigration overhaul. In 2013, he was a co-sponsor of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill, which also aimed to create a path to citizenship. The effort passed the Senate with 67 votes but failed to get a vote in the House of Representatives, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.
“Now, Democrats control the House, Speaker Pelosi is committed to immigration reform,” Menendez said. “With that, and a president who is willing to lead on the issue in President Biden, I think we have the best circumstances and the best shot.”