Today, Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Menendez spoke at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington about the prominence of the Latino vote in this year's elections and the future of immigration reform. Menendez emphasized that immigration reform is the civil rights issue of our time and urged the Republican Party to accept the fact that hard-line immigration policies should not continue to guide discussions in the new 113th Congress. In his speech, Menendez outlined five elements he believes should be part of any immigration reform legislation.
The Senator's speech, as prepared for delivery, is included below:
Thank you to CEO Neera Tanden, Tom Periello and everyone at the Center for American Progress for the good work you do and for inviting me today to look at where we are after last week's election.
We are back in Washington, after a watershed election, facing a fiscal cliff and a new reality.
On Election Day we received a powerfully clear message on exactly how the American political and demographic landscape has changed and the realization that there were many on the Republican side, in the political elite and media-echo-chamber -- who didn't see it coming despite the empirical demographic data before them.
Now we know that, with the clear results of last week, they had looked into the face of New America, a changed America, and didn't recognize it.
The result is that we find ourselves at the confluence of the old and new America -- a watershed moment when the electoral power of the New America is as clear to every American as it was to many of us long before Tuesday.
The only surprise was that so many in this country didn't realize this would be a NEW-American election that would reflect the will of a 21st century American electorate that will only grow and become stronger.
Matt Barreto, pollster for Latino Decisions has all of the numbers and will give you the specifics but I do want to use some of his information and other information to make my case.
In my state, for example, Hispanics now account for 18 percent of New Jersey's population. One in five New Jerseyans today are Hispanic.
According to the Census Bureau, about 16 percent of our labor force is Latino and that's expected to rise to 18 percent in the next six years.
And in this election, I believe that the GOP looked past what really matters to the Latino community and to the Asian American community and many other immigrant communities.
The result was that an overwhelming majority -- over 70 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama. Sixty-six percent saying that the President "truly cares" about the Latino community.
In Senate races, 72 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic candidates.
In Congressional Districts, 72 percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate. The math is clear. And the mandate is clear.
This election was a mandate to enact comprehensive immigration reform and the electorate was especially focused on legalization of the 11 million New Americans present in the U.S. who lack status.
In large part, Mitt Romney lost this election because of his right wing immigration stance-- his insistence on a "self deportation" policy and his failure to embrace relief for Dreamers.
And much of the reason that President Obama won was because he showed that he cared about these communities. The anti-immigrant stance of the Republican Party on the issue of immigration has turned Latino voters away and they should work with Democrats on this issue if they want a chance at winning Latino votes in the future.
What this election has done is shown us what the New America looks like.
It has, in doing so, given us an opportunity to make the changes that will move us forward so we can make this a NEW-American Century, such as through the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.
In this clearly demographically diverse America, we have an extraordinary opportunity to make the changes we had hoped for.
With the help of newly energized Democratic coalition and what we might describe charitably as an awakened-Republican-Party -- working together -- we will have the opportunity to make progress on issues that have lingered on the back burner for too long, especially Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
As I have said many times, it is increasingly clear that Immigration Reform is the civil rights issue of our time.
Hispanics understood that the harsh rhetoric of Gov. Romney during the Republican primaries and of the Republican party in the general election wasn't just about the undocumented--they took it personally. Those who were US citizens and registered voters understood that when we talk about "show me your papers" laws or when U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents were being unlawfully detained in immigration raids--they felt as if they were being treated like second class citizens.
So, it's not surprising that when polled: 66% said Obama truly cared about the Latino community whereas only 14% said the same of Romney--56% said Gov. Romney "didn't care very much" and 18% said Romney "was hostile."
After hearing about President Obama's deferred action policy, 58% of respondents said they were "more enthusiastic" about voting for Obama and 6% said they were "less enthusiastic."
Meanwhile, after hearing about Mitt Romney's campaign platform of "self-deportation" and learning that he would stop approving new applications for Dream deferred action once he was elected, 7% of respondents said that they were "more enthusiastic" about Romney and 57% of respondents said they were "less enthusiastic."
Given this mandate, I believe we should enact immigration reform that includes the following elements:
Legalization of the 11 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. Undocumented immigrants would be required to register with the government, pay their taxes, learn English and pay a fine and then they could apply for permanent residency and begin a journey to eventual citizenship.
Family unification: We must keep families together. Spouses should not be separated from each other or from their children.
Business reforms: We should include STEM reform that exempts science, technology, engineering and math advanced students from the numerical limits on green cards.
Birthright citizenship: We should not create a permanent underclass by eliminating citizenship for children born in the U.S.
We should include reasonable enforcement that builds upon rather than duplicating the efforts from the billions of dollars already spent on border and interior enforcement.
This is what reasonable immigration reform looks like.
And in my view, the Republican Party needs to step forward and work with us on this issue, given the results we have seen in this election in which Latinos made up an historic 10 percent of the electorate, exceeding the record 9 percent set in 2008 . If they don't, they will do it at their own political risk.
A record 23.7 million Latinos were eligible to vote this year -- 4 million more than in 2008 (up 22 percent) - headed to a time mid-century when this nation will be almost 30 percent Hispanic.
Yes, Latinos care about many issues including jobs and the economy but they also care deeply about immigration because it strikes a cord. Most Latinos know an individual who is undocumented. When the Republican party strikes out against immigrants, it reverberates throughout the whole community- it strikes at the hearts of Latinos.
Republicans should work with us to be in the forefront of responsible, reasonable, necessary, common-sense change.
In my view, the consequences of ignoring this opportunity to work together will render the Republican Party ineffective and out of touch even in down-ballot races in coming elections. "For the first time in history, the share of the national popular vote margin is smaller than the Latino vote margin. That means that if Latinos had evenly divided their vote between both Presidential candidates, the outcomes would be reversed."
The time is now to work together to find common ground and move forward.
There is an opportunity here for the business community and the business leaders in the Republican Party to realize the economic power of the New America and let their voices be heard as we forge a coalition for addressing comprehensive immigration reform that could even pass the House of Representatives.
Support for reform comes from many business sectors and industries -- from across the board. From high tech to hotels; from the restaurant industry to the service sector; from agricultural interests to financial institutions. All of them have more to gain than to lose from comprehensive reforms that we can all agree on.
I'm confident Senate Republicans will work with us when they see that the President is willing to expend some of the political capital he has earned, put it on the table, and bring along a majority in the Senate.
Then, if a bipartisan agreement can be reached in the Senate, I can only hope that the House will come along, once the extreme members in the Republican caucus no longer can exercise a veto over this issue.
I intend to play a major role in building a coalition that will recognize that comprehensive immigration reform is not only the civil rights issue of our time, but an economic recovery issue.
That it is in our economic interest as well as in the interest of the New America that turned out at the polls last Tuesday that we come to an agreement that will bring millions of Americans out of the shadows and into the process so they can contribute to the recovery, so we can all -- as one nation -- benefit from it.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office scored the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill that was proposed in the Senate as increasing federal revenues by $15 billion over the 2008-2012 period and by $48 billion over the 2008-2017 period.A study by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center found that CIR would increase our nation's GDP by $1.5 trillion over ten years, demonstrating that CIR will only add to our nation's economic recovery.
I have begun to reach out to Republicans and I will not stop until a comprehensive immigration reform bill is signed by the President.
By turning out in record numbers and tipping battleground states in the President's favor, Latinos showed us that there is a New-America out there and it's growing in electoral power and political influence and that they will take their rightful place at the table and engage the policy debate in this country.
They have shown they are an integral part of the American democratic process far beyond election day and that the needs and contributions of the Latino community can no longer be overlooked.
As the Chair of the Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force and still the only Latino Democratic Senator, I will continue to work tirelessly every day to ensure that the voice of Latinos are heard here in Washington.
For too long I have heard Latinos who are concerned about their future and their families say "Ya basta" -- enough is enough.
The time has come. The opportunity is here to finally address the civil rights issue of our time.
En la union esta la fuerza.
Let us work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform the President can sign into law.