TRENTON — Democrats in Congress, led by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, introduced a comprehensive immigration bill Thursday they say meets President Joe Biden’s goals for addressing the issue.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for people who aren’t legally in the country. It also addresses farm workers and visas for high-tech workers and provides for high-tech surveillance at border crossings, among other things.

Menendez, D-N.J., said the bill would “restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.”

“It will modernize our system, offer a path to citizenship for hard-working people in our communities, reunite families, increase opportunity for legal immigration and ensure America remains a powerhouse for innovation and a beacon of hope to refugees around the world,” Menendez said.

There hasn’t been a major immigration overhaul enacted in the United States since 1986. There are currently an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country, including perhaps 425,000 in New Jersey, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

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“The reason we have not gotten immigration reform over the finish line is not because of a lack of will,” Menendez said. “It is because time and time again, we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who have refused to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country and dismiss everything, no matter how significant it is in terms of the national security, as amnesty.”

The bill closely adheres to the proposal Biden has unveiled, but it’s not clear a comprehensive bill is going to survive in a Congress where the Senate is evenly divided, with ties broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. Smaller portions could be taken up or may be included in a future budget reconciliation bill that doesn’t face a filibuster.

“To my Republican colleagues I say this: Stop pretending like you know the political outcomes of immigration reform. When it comes to the Latino vote, especially I think this last election proved, we are not owned by any one party,” said Menendez, an allusion to gains President Donald Trump made among Hispanic voters in South Florida and border counties in Texas.

“And to my Democratic colleagues … I also have a message,” he said. “We have an economic and moral imperative to pass big, bold and inclusive immigration reform, reform that leaves no one behind.”

Menendez said the bill seeks to address root causes of migration that prompt people to leave Central America, through $4 billion in aid over four years.

Co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and three House members from New Jersey: Albio Sires, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Frank Pallone Jr.

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