By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
We are saddened to learn the news today about Senator Robert Menendez. Under the American justice system, those accused are presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and Hispanic Americans have every reason to give the senator the benefit of the doubt. For when it comes to assessing Senator Menendez’s record in Congress, there is no doubt about his effectiveness.
For millions of Latinos across the nation, Senator Bob Menendez is more than just the senior senator from New Jersey. To the Hispanic community, Senator Menendez has been our voice and our champion in the United States Senate. In the more than 20 years he has been in Congress, Senator Menendez has consistently been one of the most thoughtful, constant, and eloquent advocates not only for Latinos, but for working families, consumers, and the country’s interests abroad.
While Senator Menendez has left his mark on nearly every piece of legislation passed by Congress in the last two decades, here are just a few recent examples of his tireless work on behalf of Latinos and the many other constituencies he has championed:
- Senator Menendez has been a leader in helping to make health care more accessible to more children, including those in immigrant families. He was an original cosponsor of the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), legislation to improve legal immigrant children’s access to health care first introduced in the 1990s, and continued to fight for it until it was finally enacted in 2009. ICHIA has helped nearly 250,000 legal immigrant children receive health care and Senator Menendez later insisted that U.S.-citizen children in immigrant families be fully covered by the Affordable Care Act. As a result in part, the number of uninsured Hispanic children dropped by more than half a million over the past five years.
- He is one of the leading advocates for consumers in Congress. He was instrumental in helping to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, an agency that holds protecting vulnerable families from predatory financial products as one of its responsibilities. In addition, he led the successful effort to add consumer protections and ensure transparency in the $41 billion remittance market through which U.S. Latinos help their families abroad. Senator Menendez has been an unfailing advocate for an affordable mortgage market, supporting programs critical to first-time home buyers. And he is one of the very few lawmakers deeply engaged in addressing retirement security issues facing low-income workers.
- He has worked tirelessly to ensure that Latinos are represented in every aspect and at every level of the federal government, including within our ambassadorial ranks. Similarly, he has waged an often lonely struggle to direct a greater portion of the foreign assistance budget to neighboring countries in our own hemisphere. And it must be said that he has been a principled, independent voice in the Senate, unafraid to take positions that were unpopular, even within his own party.
- Senator Menendez has been a champion of immigration reform for decades. He was a leader in the successful effort to pass the McCain-Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, and the near miss in 2007. In 2013, he was the conscience of the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight” that shepherded comprehensive, bipartisan immigration legislation through the Senate, working tirelessly to ensure that the bill’s legalization provisions were as workable and effective as possible. Without his leadership, S. 744 would not have passed the Senate. At every turn where there has been progress on this critical issue of importance to Hispanics and immigrants, he has led the way forward. And as importantly, he has been the most stalwart defender of the most vulnerable in this debate, courageously standing up to extremists and leading the fight against anti-immigrant amendments, legislation, and other attempts to undermine reform.
Senator Menendez has devoted his entire life and career to public service. When said about most in public life, it is just a statement; when said about Senator Menendez, it is a simple, undeniable fact. He has served his community, his state, and his country since he was first elected to public office at the age of 20. NCLR highly values the partnership we have with Senator Menendez and are proud of the work we have done together on behalf of the 55 million Hispanics in this great nation. We owe him a large debt of gratitude for his efforts, for his unwavering commitment, and for his courageous dedication. As he has been there for us, we will be there for him. Our thoughts are with him, his family, and his many supporters at this challenging time.