Sen. Bob Menendez denounced the White House's decision to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border as a "submission" to demands by Republicans that the border be secured before passage of an immigration overhaul.
In a statement released by his office Tuesday evening, the New Jersey Democrat also took a shot at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has dropped his support for comprehensive legislation in favor of a border security approach. Menendez argued that the border must be part of a broader bill.
"As Senator McCain himself said many times in Senate speeches when he was a maverick, the solution to our broken immigration system has to be comprehensive. Border enforcement is a part of realistic, commonsense reform, but it alone is far from the answer," Menendez said in the statement.
"The Obama administration's militarization of the border amounts to a submission to the political forces brought by the Republican Party," he added. "If there is a greater border presence necessary, it should be in the form of additional regular border patrol agents."
Menendez's comments capped a difficult day for President Barack Obama, who was criticized by Republicans and immigration reform activists alike on the issue.
The White House unveiled its border security plan Tuesday afternoon, following Obama's meeting with Senate Republicans. In addition to the 1,200 guardsmen, Obama is asking for $500 million in supplemental funding for border security projects, including intelligence and interdiction efforts. The troops would be stationed as a temporary measure until the Department of Homeland Security could recruit and train additional border security guards.
Although Obama did not address the plan during his meeting with Republicans, he did discuss the issue of immigration, touting his administration's expansion of border security and enforcement efforts, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks. However, Obama argued that while securing the border is important, a comprehensive immigration overhaul will be needed to fully address border issues.
Additionally, Obama repeated his belief that he can persuade enough Democrats to vote for a comprehensive bill if Republicans are willing to work on the measure.
Republicans have yet to make any indication that they are willing to consider such legislation this year, and they roundly criticized Obama's border plan.
Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions derided the plan as a temporary panacea. "Announcing and taking specific steps can be helpful, but only if it's part of a determined and consistent effort to fix the problem," the Alabama Republican said. "The president's decision to send up to 1,200 troops to the border, while helpful, will not fix the problem."
Sessions also used the announcement to again criticize the White House's stance on a controversial Arizona immigration law, complaining that "members of President Obama's administration gave Mexican President Felipe Calderón a standing ovation as Calderón proceeded to slander the state of Arizona for its efforts to protect its citizens."
Immigration activists were equally critical. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, also rejected the proposal, saying, "Giving in ... on immigration sure has the same feel as when the administration caved and excluded unauthorized immigrants from the health care exchange following Rep. Joe Wilson's [R-S.C.] rude outburst last year."
"It has the feel of the president's recent embrace of offshore drilling, just weeks before the BP disaster struck," Sharry added. "Give them what they want and hope they'll play nice."