United States Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) is a homegrown success story.
As the son of immigrant parents from Mexico, raised in Pacoima, a student at San Fernando High, Padilla is using his life experiences to fortify his first national bill. He has introduced potentially groundbreaking legislation that would offer citizenship to essential workers.
It’s fitting that Padilla would be handpicked to lead the charge for challenging issues related to immigration and its reform. California is home to more immigrants than any other state.
He grew up in a household of hard work yet modest means that is more often the dichotomy of both documented and undocumented immigrant workers.
Padilla proudly shares that his father supported their family by being a short order cook while his mother cleaned houses.
“It was honest hard work in their pursuit of the American dream. With that work they raised three children and gave us an education,” he said.
Their example of hard work brought Padilla to carve out a string of significant “firsts” — earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), then coming back to the Northeast Valley and successfully running for the LA City Council. Padilla was the first Latino and the youngest person elected president of the Los Angeles City Council. He parlayed that experience to become a state Senator, and then became California’s first Latino Secretary of State.
Following the November election of Vice President Kamala Harris, he was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to finish her Senate term, making him the first Latino US Senator to represent California. He’ll be looking toward the race for his re-election in 2022.
Padilla now wields much power as the chair of a subcommittee on the Senate Judiciary panel that oversees immigration and border policy. It’s considered a major nod for a first-term senator that allows him to shape almost any legislation that moves through the committee.
He’s taken note of the backbone role that essential workers have had to play to provide services during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Padilla spoke to a group of journalists facilitated by Ethnic Media Services to discuss his first bill as a US Senator – The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.
The bill is described as “a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to US citizenship” for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in healthcare, agriculture, construction, food, energy, emergency response, caregiving, and other essential critical infrastructure sectors.
“I believe it’s time we honor [immigrant essential workers] and their service with more than just our words. These frontline workers have earned a chance to become citizens of the United States, the country they make better each and every day through their work and their contributions under these most extreme circumstances,” Padilla said
The senator cited the economic contribution and wealth that those undocumented workers contribute to the United States.
“A 2016 study by the Center for American Progress shows that undocumented workers contribute $4.7 trillion to the United States GDP. Undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated $11.7 billion in state and local taxes and $12 billion in social security revenue every year,” Padilla said.
While the contributions of Latino immigrant workers, historically and present day, may be considered as the glue for US Industry, Padilla foresees that they will continue to be relied upon in the future as even more “essential.”
“In addition to the financial contributions a key part in addressing a workforce issue, the vast majority of our current and future workforce growth — which is at less than 1% annually and is very slow by historical standards — will be accounted for and will be met by immigrants and children of immigrants,” Padilla said.
He emphasized that it was “essential workers” who put their lives at risk during this pandemic.
“I firmly believe we can’t simply rely on hardworking people to keep our nation afloat and keep our community safe in times of crisis and then turn our backs on them as soon as the pandemic is over,” Padilla said
“COVID relief means not only addressing the health impacts of the pandemic, but also rebuilding an economy that is much more inclusive of all populations, and give our frontline workers a path to citizenship they have earned and deserve.”