At a Wednesday news conference held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Menendez, left, said the GOP “must understand that, on this issue, it must work with us to achieve what is good for the country and good for the immigrant community.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, emboldened after an election in which Latino voters overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama, released a nine-point list of principles Wednesday that the group insists must be part of any immigration overhaul.
Members of the caucus — which will increase its ranks from 20 lawmakers in the current Congress to 26 in the next — see a window for bipartisan action. They are encouraged because Obama and congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, have called, since the elections, for action on immigration; no specific legislation has yet emerged.
The list of principles the caucus released makes it clear that Hispanic lawmakers see a mandate in the election results, and several of them on Wednesday laid down a direct challenge to Republicans on immigration.
“If the Republican Party wants to be a national party, it must understand that, on this issue, it must work with us to achieve what is good for the country and good for the immigrant community,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said.
But the principles include many ideas that Democratic lawmakers have proposed before and that are certain to be a tough sell to the GOP.
The caucus’s first demand is that all of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants be given the chance to earn “a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship,” a position that comes into direct conflict with conservative Republican lawmakers who have rejected such proposals as “amnesty.”
Among the other principles outlined by the group:
Immigrant families, including same-sex couples, should remain unified during the immigration process.
Those brought to the United States illegally as children should be given a path to citizenship, an extension of a policy that the Obama administration has already put into effect.
Agricultural workers should be given a path to citizenship.
Foreign-born workers should be afforded “full labor rights” and “protection from discrimination.”
The list includes points that Republicans might support, such as requiring all immigrant workers to “pay their fair share of taxes” and strengthening security on both the northern and southern U.S. borders. The caucus also called for a “workable employment-verification system that prevents unlawful employment and rewards employers and employees who play by the rules.”
Menendez emphasized that, under the caucus’s principles, undocumented immigrants who earn legal residency must meet several conditions, including registering with the government, providing fingerprints, undergoing a criminal background check and — for the first time a part of the group’s recommendations — learning English.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.