Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on Thursday after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border that it is "past time" for Congress to address immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, and called the border surge a "crisis."
"It is beyond time, past time, to do immigration reform. Immigration reform should be a pathway to citizenship. People that have been here, they might have come here the wrong way but they came here for the right reason," Manchin said during a press conference.
"We have children that came here that have no other home but America.There should be a pathway for that, for our dreamers," he added.
Manchin and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) toured the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, including taking a helicopter and boat tour with Customs and Border Protection. They also visited a Laredo, Texas, port of entry and met with migrant families.
Manchin, during the press conference, floated a 90-day moratorium on immigration, saying that he was "just throwing out different ideas."
"We've got a human crisis that I'm seeing here ... so if that means shutting everything down for 90 days of how we have people come into our country, sending that message that we're not going to be taking people into this country until we get our ability to make sure we're able to do it and do it right, is that going to put the pressure?" Manchin asked.
"Something has to be done and it has to be expedited. ... This problem is not going away. This problem will not cure itself, I can assure you, and they're coming in droves," he said.
Manchin also backed beefed up border security, more immigration judges and allowing for immigrants to apply for asylum back in their home countries rather than making an often dangerous journey to the United States.
"It would be safer. It would be much more humane. ... It's something that we should be doing," he said.
Manchin, part of a shrinking group of centrist senators, is at the center of the 50-50 Senate, where he has an outsized influence on nearly every policy debate. Cuellar noted near the start of the press conference that Manchin "plays a very important role."
The border trip comes as Biden has come under criticism from Republicans, and Democrats have shown signs of concern about a surge of unaccompanied children arriving along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S. was in custody of at least 15,000 migrant children as of late last week, and the federal government has struggled to secure enough housing for all of them, particularly during the pandemic.
Manchin said that his characterization of the surge as a "crisis," wasn't criticism of Biden.
"When I call this a crisis, I'm not blaming the crisis on the present administration of President Biden, the former administration of President Trump," he said. "This has been a human crisis for a long, long time."
Manchin added that he planned to return to Washington, D.C., and discuss his trip with both Biden and his colleagues.
Biden has proposed a sweeping, comprehensive immigration reform bill, though it's unlikely that could pass in the Senate where 10 GOP votes would be needed. A bipartisan group is also holding talks about a smaller bill that would address immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.
"This can happen," Manchin added about immigration legislation. "Common sense can prevail and that's what we're hopeful for."
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