Sen. Bob Menendez unveils plan for immigration overhaul

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday introduced a framework for revamping immigration programs amid ongoing concerns about the number of migrant crossings, particularly along the southern border.

The outline calls for creating new pathways to citizenship, boosting humanitarian aid to specific counties, increasing funding for border security, and expanding efforts to target human traffickers. A spokesperson for Menendez said his office shared the plan the White House, the Homeland Security and State departments and Senate leadership.

In a statement, Menendez noted that he has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration’s immigration policies, which he described implementing “short-term deterrence policies that fail to address the cycle of irregular migration at our southwest border.”

Menendez said his plan “provides a set of policies that will secure our borders without sacrificing our domestic and legal obligations to asylum seekers by working with partners in the region to give people alternative options to illegal smuggling networks. This plan largely includes policies that President Biden can pursue without Congress, until Republicans decide to come to the table and help the administration manage the current challenge.”

The plan also would address the busing of migrants from GOP-led states to Democratic-run cities by having the Department of Homeland security be in charge of relocating migrants “to end the current challenge of states independently sending migrants to major urban centers without intergovernmental coordination.” Menendez’s plan would establish a new migration coordination office at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The outline represents the latest effort to tackle an issue that hasn’t seen significant progress on Capitol Hill in decades.

The effort, which does not appear to have GOP support at the moment, comes months after a bipartisan Senate duo launched a last-minute push to enact immigration reform during the lame duck session.

That plan, put forward by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called for $25 billion to boost border security, which factored in higher salaries for border patrol agents and increased staffing and other resources for border patrol and border protection. It also called for expediting the asylum process through investments in asylum officers, litigation teams, and immigration judges and courts. And it would create a pathway to citizenship for roughly 2 million “Dreamers,” young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

Menendez’s proposal similarly calls for beefing up salaries for border patrol and field operations employees and expediting asylum processing. Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is also calling for new visas to address worker shortages identified by states. Raising the number of work visas would require congressional action.

Customs and Border Protection reported Monday that encounters with migrants at the border in March were up 23%, to about 191,900, from the previous month, a bump that’s typical as spring approaches, but down about 14% from March of last year.

Summer Concepcion and Julia Ainsley contributed.