NJ Senator Bob Menendez
US Senator Robert Menendez has been indicted on charges of accepting brides in the form of gold bars, cash and luxury vehicles. AFP

Senator Robert Menéndez (D-NJ) has come under public scrutiny this week after being indicted on bribery charges. Now, the senator is using his Latin heritage to deflect criticism as his Capital Hill colleagues call on him to resign.

"Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction," said Menendez. Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals."

Menéndez is the son of Cuban immigrants who was first elected into Congress as a U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 13th district in 1993. After spending some years in the House of Representatives, in 2006, he was appointed by New Jersey's governor to fill a vacancy in the Senate.

On Friday, Sept. 22, he was charged alongside his wife for accepting bribes from the government of Egypt. The indictment accuses Menéndez, his wife and three business associates of pressuring the Department of Agriculture to protect business interests in Egypt. The indictment alleges that Menendez received bribes in the form of gold bars, cash and luxury vehicles.

Due to the seriousness of the charges, Menéndez and the other defendants could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Though Menéndez and his wife have pleaded not guilty and were released on bond, there has been a deluge of senators urging the senator to resign. Among the senators are Latino lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Gregorio Casar (D-TX), U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA).

On Thursday, Aguilar, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, publicly addressed Menendez, stating that he is not being targeted because of his Latino Heritage.

"It doesn't bring me joy to say that he should resign," said Aguilar. "Latinos face barriers and discrimination across the board in so many categories, including in our justice system. This is not that."

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