In a decorative display case on the left side of California Senator Alex Padilla’s office is a framed photo of his parents meeting with President Joe Biden in Los Angeles in 2014.
Yes, says Padilla, he was fortunate enough to introduce his parents to the then Vice President of the United States.
“But the other thing is that I introduced the vice president to my parents,” he said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Over the past 10 months, Padilla has established himself as a staunch immigration voice in the United States Senate, where he represents a state where Latinos are the largest ethnic group. He is the first Latin American senator from California, chosen by Governor Gavin Newsom to replace Vice President Kamala Harris when she assumed this role.
He became chairman of the immigration subcommittee upon arrival, an unusual level of appointment for first-year senators, and is the first Latino to lead it.
His first bill was intended to pave the way for citizenship for essential workers, such as farm workers and grocery store workers, many of whom do not have immigration documents.
“The Department of Homeland Security under Donald Trump has recognized certain areas as – in quotes and without quotes -” essential “: essential for the security of the nation and essential for the nation’s supply chain,” Padilla said. “And to think that there are over five million undocumented immigrants considered essential by the federal government, that should be recognition that they deserve better than the conditions in which they live and work today.”
Immigration has been a political football tossed around between Republicans and Democrats for decades. While there has been bipartisan support for some initiatives, most have stalled as parties shifted priorities.
Rhetoric used by the administration of former President Donald Trump as he fought to build a border wall with Mexico, among other means to prevent people from settling in the country, reinforced anti- sentiment. immigrant, advocates noted.
While immigration rights advocates have said Padilla is a “champion” of reform, they have also said change is difficult to pass when it requires a two-thirds majority in an equally divided Senate between Democrats and Republicans.
“It’s hard to see this path compromised when one party is almost entirely against it,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Saenz mentioned that the Bush family and John McCain were both openly open to immigration reform, but their voices and similar voices have since been silenced. “They have not been replaced by others who proactively offer a different perspective,” Saenz said.
Padilla in the Senate
Padilla has been relatively silent on other issues, more typical of a senator who was chosen rather than elected. He moved to insert immigration reform in the massive tax bill and multibillion-dollar spending. Democrats have packed the measure with social reforms that may not get Republicans approval because the bill only requires a simple 50-50 Senate majority.
The Senate parliamentarian, who advises on chamber procedures, called on senators to remove the language of immigration. Padilla and other senators have since worked to amend it in an attempt to adopt certain protections.
The White House, in a memo detailing its framework for the budget bill last month, said the measure would allocate $ 100 million to fix the “broken” immigration system and provide additional legal support to migrants and asylum seekers.
Padilla and other members of Congress announced a bill on Friday that would strengthen the oversight, accountability and training of border patrol officers.
Last month, Padilla introduced another bill for those seeking citizenship who have seen criminal convictions “struck out, overturned or pardoned” by their sentencing court. The bill requests that these previous convictions not influence the possibilities of naturalization or their ability to remain in the United States.
He also hopes that people who live in the United States with protections under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, can follow similar paths to citizenship.
California and Padilla are both strong supporters of DACA, recently against the former president’s efforts to quash it. California and other states have won a lawsuit against Trump’s attempt to overturn DACA protections.
About 223,000 DACA recipients live in California, according to estimates from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Padilla California offices
He has been California Secretary of State since 2015 and during that time encouraged people to apply for citizenship to exercise their right to vote.
His rise to the Senate was accelerated. Padilla, 48, was the youngest and first Latino to serve on Los Angeles City Council, and ended up leading it. He was acting mayor of LA for a few days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
In 2006, he became a state senator before running for California secretary of state.
Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants who met and married in Los Angeles, remembers standing in line with his older sister and younger brother as his parents renewed their green cards every few years.
“That’s what I thought was normal, it’s just that was life for us – until Proposition 187,” he said.
With a freshly graduated engineering degree from a leading university, Padilla returned home in 1994 to argue against the ballot initiative that would have prevented undocumented immigrants from seeking health care under most circumstances. (The measure was passed, but a federal court effectively overturned it before it could be enforced.)
It kicked off his career in politics, a path his father had hoped for ever since they were renewing those green cards.
“Son, when you grow up, I want you to work with your mind and not with your back,” his father told him in Spanish.
“There is a lot of honor in manual labor. But that was his way of saying if you wanted to be better for us, the way to do that was to get a good education, ”said Padilla.
He did. Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Kim Bojorquez of the Bee Capitol Bureau and Francesca Chambers of McClatchyDC contributed to this story.
This story was originally published November 8, 2021 5:00 a.m.