Sen. Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.) unveiled an immigration plan Tuesday that relies heavily on executive actions to address migration flows in the Western Hemisphere.
“For the last year, I have repeatedly expressed concerns over the Biden Administration’s decision to implement short-term deterrence policies that fail to address the cycle of irregular migration at our southwest border,” Menéndez said in a statement, adding that his proposal “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 Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is attempting to reset President Biden’s approach to the issue of immigration, pivoting to real-world solutions from the political tug-of-war over whether conditions at the border constitute a crisis.
“I don’t call it a crisis, but it can become one if you understand that there are 20 million people in the Western Hemisphere, in Latin America and Central America who are displaced, who are refugees, who are seeking asylum across the hemisphere,” Menéndez told “CNN This Morning.”
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that unless we work with other countries in the hemisphere, they’re going to make their march up north.”
The proposal focuses on four pillars to “effectively manage migration in the Americas”: an expansion of legal pathways for immigrants to the United States, an increase in border security resources, expanded aid to countries in the region to amplify their own asylum and refugee programs and increased efforts to combat organized crime and smuggling organizations.
“The United States has traditionally viewed the Western Hemisphere’s migration and refugee challenges through the narrow lens of what is happening at the U.S. southwest border,” the plan reads.
“Successive U.S. administrations have designed their domestic and foreign policies to respond to shifting needs at the border, an approach that has not created a sustainable long-term solution to a mixed flow of migrants and refugees.”
That approach, according to the plan, has created an immigration system that’s “enforcement-driven, reactive, and overly focused on punitive policies to deter migrants once they arrive at our borders.”
The plan’s proposals rely heavily on executive actions and coordination with Congress on funding, rather than legislation, a recognition that immigration reform has been out of reach for decades and will likely remain so.
“If we continue down the road where we’ve been, which is reactive and responsive and an enforcement-only mechanism, we’re gonna continue to have the same problem,” Menéndez told CNN.
Menéndez’s proposal was warmly received by immigrant advocates, many of whom have grown frustrated with the Biden administration’s relatively narrow approach to immigration and border security.
“Senator Menendez is a leading thinker and policy maker on migration, refugees and foreign policy. His thoughtful, balanced and multilayered plan is a potential game-changer. The Biden Administration would be wise to use it as a blueprint,” said Kerri Talbot, deputy director of The Immigration Hub, an immigration policy advocacy group.
Talbot lauded the plan’s focus on so-called “push factors,” like political repression in places like Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua, and its focus on enabling legal pathways – rather than deterrence – to address economic and social “pull factors.”
The plan also calls for an increase in U.S. funding for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on the premise that the Western Hemisphere hosts 20 percent of the world’s at-risk population for displacement, but only receives 8 percent of UNHCR’s budget.
The unorthodox proposal from a top Democratic player in the immigration space comes ahead of a May deadline for the end of Title 42, a border management policy tied to the pandemic emergency.
Administration officials have been scrambling to find a replacement for Title 42, which allows officials to ignore asylum claims and quickly expel migrants at the border, usually sending them back to Mexico.
The Menéndez proposal also comes a day after Republicans unveiled their first comprehensive border plan: a 130-page bill due for consideration in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The Menéndez plan takes aim at some Republican immigration policies, including the practice by some GOP-led states to relocate migrants to Democratic-controlled cities and states, often without coordinating logistics.
Under Menéndez’s plan, migrants would be relocated to their final destinations within the United States by federal authorities working in conjunction with state and local governments.
“Federal relocation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is needed to end the current challenge of states independently sending migrants to major urban centers without intergovernmental coordination,” reads the plan.
—Updated at 1:53 p.m.