Menendez Delivers Remarks Calling for Inclusion of Immigrant Families in COVID-19 Stimulus Package and Beyond

Menendez Delivers Remarks Calling for Inclusion of Immigrant Families in COVID-19 Stimulus Package and Beyond

‘This Administration and my Republican colleagues need to open their eyes and realize how we are treating immigrants in this country’

  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, today delivered remarks on the Senate Floor on the need for Congress to ensure that immigrants – so many of whom have been on the frontlines as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been disproportionately impacted – are not left behind in the upcoming stimulus package being negotiated in the Senate.  As the son of Cuban immigrants and a first generation American, Sen. Menendez recognized the labor and countless contributions of immigrant families to America’s economy in the midst of the pandemic and beyond, and continued to warn against the dangers of the Trump Administration’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda.

“The history of America is intertwined with immigrant stories. In every state of our Union, immigrants work in every industry and contribute in all facets of American life,” Sen. Menendez said in his Senate Floor remarks. “They work in our fields picking our fruits and vegetables, they are checkers at grocery stores, and construction workers building our bridges and homes.  They educate our children in our schools. They treat the sick in our hospitals as nurses, doctors and mental health professionals.  They wear our uniform and carry our flag in the U.S. Armed Services.”

“This Administration and my Republican colleagues need to open their eyes and realize how we are treating immigrants in this country,” Sen. Menendez continued. “We need them to do it now, in this moment, as we are pleading with our colleagues to do what is right—to give families a fighting chance to beat this virus and put the economy back on track. We can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that immigrant families will likely be excluded from help desperately needed during this pandemic in the next COVID-19 package.”

“In the face of this tremendous public health crisis, we should not let the insidious, cruel and relentless scapegoating of immigrants prevent us from providing much-needed relief to the very same families and workers who are helping us survive,” Sen. Menendez added. “All families deserve to be treated with dignity. It’s the humane thing to do.”

In his impassioned speech, Sen. Menendez not only urged his colleagues to address the growing inequalities in the immigrant communities, but also urged them to put aside partisan politics and restart the long-overdue discussions to find path forward to achieving real immigration reform.

“We must come together, as we did before, to restart these long-overdue discussions and find a path forward to achieving real, immigration reform,” Sen. Menendez concluded. “I have always believed and still believe that reforming our immigration laws is the civil rights issue of our time. It is time to treat immigrants fairly and recognize their hard work and contributions to this nation.”

Below are the Senator’s full remarks as delivered:

Mr. President, I come to the Senate Floor today to speak about a topic very close to my heart.

As the son of Cuban immigrants and a first generation American, the struggles of immigrant families are not something I read about in books or watched on television.

I lived it.  I saw with my own eyes what it means to grow up in an immigrant family … in a low-income tenement in Union City, New Jersey.  My mother worked tirelessly as a seamstress and sacrificed everything to make sure that my siblings and I could have a better life and a brighter future.

Because that is the very essence of what we call “the American Dream.”  It’s about ensuring that the next generation has it better than we do.  That our children and grandchildren … and their children and grandchildren have greater opportunities than we do to realize their full potential.

And it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or where your ancestors came to when they came to this country.

We are a nation built by immigrants.  Every single member of this great and storied body is a descendant of someone who came to America seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

The President is a second generation American.  His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came here from Germany.  Our First Lady is herself an immigrant.

And yet, this Administration and President Trump have gone to painstaking lengths to deny, erase and ignore the contributions of immigrants to American life and culture,  innovation and ingenuity, economy and prosperity. 

They have worked overtime to deny the very fact that the immigrant story IS America’s story.

But as an old saying in Spanish goes: No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver which means there’s nothing worse than not wanting to see what’s right in front of you.

Donald Trump’s endless lies and attacks on immigrants started long before he descended down the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his run for the presidency.  They haven’t stopped since.

The President recently took another aggressive step in his war to erase immigrants from the portrait of America when he issued an unconstitutional edict to exclude our undocumented brothers and sisters from being counted in the 2020 census for the purpose of determining representation in Congress. 

His message was loud and clear to immigrant communities across the country:  You are not welcome here.  You don’t belong here.  You don’t count.

His goal is to instill fear in immigrant communities.  And that’s shameful and un-American.

Let’s be clear, the United States Constitution is explicit on this particular point.

Article 1, Section 2 clearly states, and I quote: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons…”

The Census requires an accurate count of ALL persons living in this country.  It does not distinguish between status or citizenship. It could have said, it requires a count of all citizens of the then-United States of the Union. It could have said, it is a count of all citizens and all legal permanent residents. It didn’t say that either. And it specifically recognizes that because as the union was developing, there would be people from different walks of life in the United States. And it purposefully understood that not all of them would necessarily be a citizen at the time of the counting but who was in America at any given time from the creation of the Constitution was important. All persons.

My friends, we have been sent here to serve ALL our constituents in our home states, no matter the color of their skin, their gender or their legal status.

The history of America is intertwined with immigrant stories.  In every state of our Union, immigrants work in every industry and contribute in all facets of American life…..the most important part of our lives. 

They work in our fields picking our fruits and vegetables, they are checkers at grocery stores, and construction workers building our bridges and homes.  They educate our children in our schools. They treat the sick in our hospitals as nurses, doctors and mental health professionals.  They wear our uniform and carry our flag in the U.S. Armed Services.

In fact, during this pandemic, hundreds of thousands of immigrants—including undocumented immigrants—have put their lives on the line to serve as essential frontline workers and to keep businesses open … despite the Administration actively seeking to deport them.

Like many American citizens, they are risking their lives every day –while being disproportionately affected by COVID-19– to provide others with the services they need and protect the health and safety of our fellow Americans. All the while, facing disproportionate infection and death rates from this horrible disease.  They are the invisible heroes of this pandemic. They’re the ones who make it possible for us to receive the essential goods and services so that we can stay home, which is what we’re told to do by the nation’s public health officials.

But the message from the President to these essential workers who perform back breaking work in our fields, care for our children or treat you at our hospitals is: You are not worthy.

I’d ask every single one of my colleagues, if God forbid, you were infected with COVID-19, would you really care about the citizenship status of the doctor or nurse treating you?  Would you ask for his or her “legal papers” before getting help?

Would any of you refuse to eat fruit or vegetables in your homes picked by the calloused hands of an undocumented immigrant sweating in our fields?

Would you rather not have a highway built in your state because the workers have a native language other than English?

Many of you would tell me that’s non-sense. But yet, Trump’s presidency has been marked by deafening silence in the face of his inflammatory, xenophobic, immoral campaign against immigrants.

Just take the example of TPS and DACA beneficiaries…

As my home State of New Jersey struggled in the early days of the pandemic – until recently, we had the second most cases of COVID-19 – TPS holders like Madelia Cartagena in Newark, and Dreamers like Daysi from Monmouth County rose to the challenge presented by this pandemic.

As more than 131,000 Temporary Protected Status holders across the nation and 7,500 in New Jersey alone, Madelia was considered an essential worker as the company she has worked for in the last 17 years had to respond to the increasing demand for sanitizer dispensers. 

For Daisy, the fact she was brought to the United States from Central America at just nine years old meant nothing to the patients whose lives she was helping save.  What mattered was that she showed up when she was needed.  And that she did so despite the lingering threat that DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – could be abruptly terminated and with it, her ability to remain in this country. She showed up every day helping to save lives.

Put simply, TPS holders like Madelia and DACA beneficiaries like Daysi will help us heal and will also help our economy recover. They represent among the best of America.

To give you some context, Dreamers bring in a net $3.4 billion annually to the U.S. Treasury and generate $42 billion in Gross Domestic Product each year. Dreamers.

Yet, this Administration has fought tooth and nail to send Dreamers packing, despite the American flag being the only one they’ve ever pledged allegiance to. The National Anthem being the only national anthem they’ve every sung.

Even after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, that the termination of DACA was unlawful, the Administration has openly defied the Supreme Court’s order by not reopening the full DACA program. 

These Dreamers are battling the Coronavirus and the Trump Administration!

Polls show that even a majority of Trump voters want to protect Dreamers from deportation, and wide swaths of registered voters support Dreamers regardless of the voter’s gender, education, income, ethnicity, religion and ideology.

That includes 68 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of conservatives and 64 percent of those who approve of the job the President is doing.

But instead of accepting the Supreme Court’s decision and acknowledging the enormous contributions of Dreamers, this Administration is planning new efforts to end DACA.  It’s no secret – they indicate as much in the latest Department of Homeland Security memo. 

And let’s be honest, if it’s not outright termination they seek, the Administration will treat the protection of Dreamers as a bargaining chip in order to undo our LEGAL immigration system.  They want to cut LEGAL family immigration in exchange for what they call “merit-based” immigration.  That’s pretty shameful and offensive because there are many that are here that would never be here under a merit-based system.

This Administration and my Republican colleagues need to open their eyes and realize how we are treating immigrants in this country. 

We need them to do it now, in this moment, as we are pleading with our colleagues to do what is right—to give families a fighting chance to beat the virus and put the economy back on track.

We can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that immigrant families will likely be excluded from help desperately needed during this pandemic in the next COVID-19 package.

So far, undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and selflessly risk their lives as essential workers to save others have been deliberately excluded from the federal pandemic assistance Congress has provided.

Virtually all immigrants who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or as we call it ITIN, to file their federal taxes and their U.S. citizen spouses and children were left out from any economic impact payments in the CARES Act.

In other words, we denied American citizens and their American-citizen children badly needed assistance as a punishment for being married to an undocumented immigrant or belonging to a mixed status family during this economic emergency.

I grew up believing that an American Citizen is an American Citizen is an American Citizen, regardless of who I marry; regardless of whether my children are the offspring of one parent who’s an American Citizen and another one who is not.

Thousands of American citizens were denied $1,200 individual stimulus checks to which other American citizens were entitled to just because of who they love.  American citizen children were denied $500 in assistance to which other American citizen children were entitled.  It’s wrong. Are there two classes of American children in this country now? Are there two classes of American citizens now?

As we consider the next COVID-19 relief package, Congress has to fix this injustice. 

If you work hard, follow the rules, and pay your taxes – you deserve tax relief – regardless of how you filed.  At the very least if you are an American citizen living in a mixed-status family, an American child who is the offspring of a mixed-status family —you should not be denied the cash benefit you’re rightfully entitled to.  It’s just that simple. It’s justice. It’s what’s right.

In the face of this tremendous public health crisis, we should not let the insidious, cruel and relentless scapegoating of immigrants prevent us from providing much-needed relief to the very same families and workers who are helping us survive.

All families deserve to be treated with dignity. It’s the humane thing to do.

But that’s not all…

As we expanded access to free COVID-19 testing, undocumented immigrants were left behind.  That makes no sense.  The coronavirus doesn’t check your status before infecting you. 

An undocumented immigrant living in America with COVID-19 is no less a threat to become a seriously ill individual or spread the virus than an American citizen who’s infected. The virus does not discriminate on race, or gender, ethnicity, borders, or legal status. As a public health proposition, you want everybody to be tested.

Given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on low-income and communities of color, and the fact that they are serving in essential industries, I would argue they are more likely to be infected.

What good does it do any of us if someone—regardless of who or where they are—is walking around with an undiagnosed case of COVID-19 because they couldn’t afford a test?

That person can unwittingly infect their relatives, neighbors and coworkers. 

If we ever want to see our economy and lives return to some semblance of normal, there must be access to free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines for EVERYONE living in the United States—regardless of immigration status.

America has to do better to acknowledge the hard work, sacrifice, and contributions of immigrants. 

Sadly, these past four years have seen a rise in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric targeting immigrants.

Led by this President, immigrants are continuously scapegoated for every problem. 

One of my Senate colleagues even suggested recently that Hispanics were to blame for the rise in COVID cases across our own country—instead of the epic failure of the Administration to develop and implement a national pandemic response plan, or one that includes culturally competent outreach to minority-majority communities.

As elected officials and leaders in our communities, we have a moral responsibility to rise above the immigrant fearmongering and the President’s hateful rhetoric to reunite our country.

Not only must we include immigrant families in the upcoming relief package, but to truly address these injustices, we must reform our immigration laws – once and for all.

We must come together … as we did before here in the Senate, I was part of that Gang of 8 … to restart these long-overdue discussions and find a path forward to achieving real, immigration reform.

I have always believed and still believe that reforming our immigration laws is the civil rights issue of this community of it this time.

It is time to treat immigrants fairly and recognize their hard work and contributions to this nation. 

Immigrants like my mother, Evangelina, who came here with nothing but the conviction that everything in America was possible.  She refused to let not speaking English or her modest wages as a seamstress stop her from giving us the best life she could.

And here I am, one of 100 U.S. Senators in a country of over 300 million people. 

I am the embodiment of that American dream, and my story is no less meaningful than that of any immigrant coming to this country or in this country to build a better future for their family and this nation.

That is our past. That is our history. That is our present. And it will be our future.

It’s past time that due acknowledgment and respect are given, it’s now time for action.   

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