Menendez pressed VP Harris in private to put immigration measure in infrastructure bill

·3 min read

Sen. Bob Menendez pressed Vice President Kamala Harris in a private meeting this week to include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in legislation that includes the Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal.

Menendez, who is a lead sponsor in Congress of President Joe Biden’s immigration agenda, made a “big push” to Harris on Tuesday to include the citizenship measure in emerging infrastructure legislation, according to a participant in the meeting. A spokesperson for the New Jersey Democrat confirmed that characterization.

“I’m hopeful that his incredibly persuasive argument for that was persuasive to her as a former Senate colleague who I think she has a lot of respect for,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of the domestic worker advocacy group Care in Action. “It felt really significant to me that he made such a big persuasive push.”

While Biden is pursuing a bipartisan infrastructure deal, Democratic lawmakers are also working on a larger bill that is expected to encompass a raft of Democratic initiatives.

Menendez would like to see the immigration proposal attached to any bill that lawmakers and Biden decide to move forward, his spokesperson said.

An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants reside in the United States. Biden has laid out a broad immigration reform package that would allow those migrants to legally live and work in the country after paying taxes and passing a background check before they have the opportunity to become citizens. Menendez is a sponsor of that legislation.

Immigration advocacy groups aligned with the Biden administration have been increasingly vocal about a desire for Democrats to include a pathway to citizenship in a large bill that includes other priorities so that the proposal has a better chance of becoming law.

Morales Rocketto said she supports affixing the measure to the bill under discussion that could combine Biden’s families and jobs plans and other initiatives. She said the citizenship measure could apply to farm workers, DREAMers, essential workers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designees.

She participated in the meeting with Harris, alongside fellow advocates, immigrant women and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Morales Rocketto said in an interview with McClatchy that she was “surprised at how forceful” Menendez was in pushing the issue.

Menendez told Harris that all options should be on the table, a spokesperson for Menendez said, including reconciliation legislation that passes with only Democratic support.

“He made a strong appeal for the VP and made the case for a large population of the undocumented community to be included in a pathway to citizenship,” a Menendez spokesperson said. “We’re exploring every avenue.”

The vice president’s office did not immediately provide a comment on the discussion that took place behind closed doors.

In remarks to the media, Harris said, “I’m here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration to tell you this administration fully intends to do everything in our power to protect our DREAMers. There will be no question about that. There is no question about that.”

DREAMers refer to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children.

The White House reiterated on Thursday that it does not favor using infrastructure legislation as a vehicle for the immigration measure, referring to comments that White House press secretary Jen Psaki made in May.

“The president doesn’t feel that reconciliation is the preferred path forward for moving these — these areas — priority areas of immigration forward,” Psaki said at that time. “We should move things forward in a bipartisan manner, and we’ll continue to press for that.”