When Sen. Alex Padilla took the California Senate seat left by V.P. Kamala Harris, the American immigrant story achieved two remarkable milestones.
Harris’ election to the vice presidency marked the unprecedented ascendancy of the first woman, Black and Asian, to a top political office, while Padilla became the first ever Latino to represent California in the United States senate. After twenty seven years of fighting for immigrant rights, Alex Padilla is finally in a position to achieve the immigration reforms he has long pursued.
In his new role Padilla has promised to restore humanity, dignity and respect to the immigration process, a commitment reflected in the new title he’s given to the immigration subcommittee. It will now be known as the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety.
At an ethnic media briefing on April 16th, Padilla was proud to announce ‘The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act‘ – the first bill he has introduced as a United States Senator to honor “immigrant essential workers with action”.
Padilla’s focus on immigration reform begins with a proposal to deliver a pathway to citizenship to frontline workers – a ‘long-overdue recognition’ that ‘they have earned, and they deserve.’
He described the Bill as legislation that “urges a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in critical infrastructure sectors such as health care, agriculture, construction, food, energy, emergency response, and care-giving.”
Padilla explained that during the COVID19 pandemic, frontline workers have been critical to keeping the country running and saving American lives, despite the risk of COVID19 to their health and that of their families. “They continue to show up to work every day.”
Essential workers put food on our tables, take care of our loved ones, clean the hospitals, restaurants, and offices. They ensure “that communities stay healthy, and that the economy continue to move,” added Padilla.
To him, COVID Relief not only means addressing the health impact of the pandemic. It also means rebuilding and stimulating an economic recovery that is “much more inclusive.”
Padilla’s home state of California has the highest concentration of immigrants (11 million) of any state in the US, but Padilla sees CA’s diversity “as a tremendous strength” and, that “the entire nation stands to benefit from thoughtful immigration reform.”
Immigration reform had stalled for decades, until the Trump administration declared war on immigrants with a slew of restrictive policies – setting limits on legal immigration and family-based immigration, building border walls, and enforcing child separation. Now immigration reform is also tasked with overturning the anti-immigration directives from the Trump era.
Padilla believes the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act will mark a ‘rather pivotal moment in the nation’s history’ when it’s in the best interest of the country to rebuild from the economic impact of the pandemic.
He reiterated his commitment to “bringing the urgency to immigration reform that this moment demands and millions of hard working immigrants have earned. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration policies and to respectfully uphold America’s legacy as a nation of immigrants.”
“The Bill will help boost our economic recovery and will benefit communities across the country.”
The vast majority of current and future workforce growth will be met by immigrants and the children of immigrants, said Padilla. He referred to a 2016 study by the Center for American Progress which found that undocumented workers contribute $4.7 trillion to the United States GDP, while undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in state and local taxes, and $12 billion in social security revenue every year.
Given their financial contributions, “We can no longer ignore the 11 million plus people who have been living…’in the shadows’ in this country but working and paying taxes and contributing,” added Padilla.
They have earned their right to citizenship through their service and sacrifice, said Padilla, who together with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), sent a letter to President Biden, urging the inclusion of the Bill in next infrastructure package.
Padilla was optimistic about helping President Biden move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform package to congress and ‘making significant progress.”
“It is personal for me,” he said, drawing parallels between his immigrant parents and the service of essential workers. “These workers – they remind me of my own parents who worked jobs considered ‘essential today.”
A ‘proud son of immigrants,’ Padilla grew up in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where his parents raised three children in whom they instilled strong values of service to others, in their pursuit of the American dream.
Padilla came to public service following the example of his Mexican immigrant parents.
“It was through their activism and community organizing that in many ways led me to public service”, he remarked, describing how his family worked with neighbors to curb violence in heir neighborhood.
Padilla paid tribute to his parents – for 40 years his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses. Their inspiring ‘journey and life experience’ is the backstory to Padilla’s fight for immigration rights from his time on Los Angeles City Council through to the California Senate and his 2015election as secretary of state
“I firmly believe that we can’t simply rely on hardworking people to keep our nation afloat and keep our communities safe in times of crisis and then turn our backs on them as soon as the pandemic is over. That would just be wrong.”
“I believe its time need to honor them and their work and their service with more than just our words”
Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents