The San Juan Daily Star
Senior Democrat urges executive actions from Biden on immigration
By Eileen Sullivan
Sen. Bob Menendez, one of the loudest and most powerful Democratic critics of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, said this week that he had delivered a list of recommended executive actions to the White House to address illegal migration at the southern border in a more humane way.
The move is unusual for Menendez, a three-term Democrat from New Jersey and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has for years focused on immigration policy and introduced a number of bills meant to change the outdated system.
But Menendez acknowledged the reality that Congress was unlikely to pass immigration legislation soon. His decision to go public with his recommendations reflects his growing frustration that President Joe Biden is falling short on his immigration promises.
“I do believe that there are a series of executive actions the administration can take that would more effectively and humanely deal with our challenges,” Menendez said in an interview with The New York Times.
Each of the past three presidents, including Biden, has resorted to executive actions to address immigration issues because Congress has failed to overhaul the country’s immigration laws for more than 30 years.
The Biden administration has focused some of its executive actions on managing a record number of illegal border crossings amid relentless Republican attacks. It has also embraced some Trump-era policies that many Democrats and immigration advocates expected Biden to end upon taking office. Some of the actions came as the administration prepared for the expiration on May 11 of the public health measure known as Title 42, which allowed authorities to swiftly expel migrants, even those seeking asylum.
Menendez has criticized some of those actions, saying last month that he feared Biden would “become the ‘asylum denier in chief.’” His recommendations, which he delivered to the White House on Friday, include streamlining deportations, developing programs to support migrants in Latin America and raising penalties for criminal activities that facilitate illegal migration.
He also recommended the creation of a new pathway for parole paired with states’ need for workers. Governors, including some Republicans, have been calling for immigration laws to change to fill vital workforce shortages. This month, the Labor Department reported 9.9 million job openings around the country as of February.
“In the absence of being able to find Americans to do those jobs, this is an opportunity, an escape valve on which people can regularize a process, come do some critical work in the United States, help us grow our prosperity,” Menendez said.
Menendez also suggested that the administration increase the salaries of Border Patrol agents and officers at Customs and Border Protection.
The White House declined to comment on Menendez’s recommendations but defended Biden’s track record on immigration policies.
“This administration has taken unprecedented action to expand lawful immigration pathways, reduce unlawful migration and secure record funds for border security,” said Abdullah Hasan, a White House spokesperson.
“But only Congress can update decades-old laws and provide the resources to truly fix our long broken immigration system.”
Americans remain divided over who should be allowed to come into the country. A nationwide survey conducted in February found that 44% of respondents said immigration should be reduced, while only 20% would like to see more immigrants allowed into the country.
On his first day in office, Biden sent Congress a framework that he described as laying out a return to a fairer and more humane immigration system. Less than a month later, Menendez and Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., introduced bills based on that framework.
But the legislation effectively died in Congress, and the White House refocused its efforts on passing the president’s infrastructure bill.
The administration has blamed Republicans for refusing to find a compromise to increase border security and allow migrants to come to the United States legally and instead focusing on partisan efforts to build an impeachment case against the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.
In general, Democrats favor comprehensive immigration legislation, but they, too, are worried about wasting political capital to build support because they expect Republicans, who control the House majority, would not cooperate and any legislation would die in the House, congressional aides said.
The Republican House leadership has already said it would consider only bills about border security and not other issues driving illegal migration.