Alex Padilla is the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate. Though not the only first-generation American currently serving in the Senate, Padilla is the only first-generation child of Mexican parents to ever serve. Padilla’s parents became naturalized citizens after Proposition 187 passed. The other six current Latino senators are either the children of Cuban immigrants or come from families that have lived in the United States for several generations. This unique background for Senator Padilla makes the recent push for immigration reform even more personal. President Biden has said that comprehensive immigration reform is a priority, and Padilla is optimistic that good change is on the way, especially with Democratic control of the Senate and House. What is clear is that perhaps no state has more at stake than California, which is who Padilla represents. Still there will be roadblocks, especially in the evenly divided senate, where two parties rarely can find common ground or agree on much of anything.
Lately, media focus has been on the surge of immigrants and asylum seekers at the southern border, which has given Republicans against broad reforms some ammunition in the ongoing debates about future policy. Similar to Biden, Padilla has said comprehensive reform is ideal, but smaller piecemeal packages would be beneficial as well. Updating the immigration laws is long overdue, with the last major reforms not having taken place since the Reagan Era. Padilla’s first bill is called the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, and would provide a pathway to citizenship for over 5 million essential workers in the U.S. illegally who were on the front lines of the pandemic. Senate leaders gave him with a high-profile position within the subcommittees on the issue. He hopes the focus will be on citizenship and has recently renamed the panel Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety. Padilla has argued that a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people already is the right thing to do both morally, and for the benefit of the U.S. economy. Win Win.