California’s First Latino Senator Wants Immigration Overhaul Now

California’s First Latino Senator Wants Immigration Overhaul Now

Originally Published in The New York Times

Luke Broadwater - March 15, 2021

Senator Alex Padilla, the Democrat who was appointed to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’s seat, is pressing for a pathway to citizenship for five million unauthorized immigrants who are essential workers.

“The stars are aligned to make progress on immigration,” Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, said in an interview.
Credit...Pool photo by Al Drago

WASHINGTON — Less than two months into the job, Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, is impatient to take on the kind of major immigration overhaul that has bedeviled Congress for decades.

Mr. Padilla, 47, was appointed to the Senate in January to fill the seat vacated when Vice President Kamala Harris was inaugurated, and he was quickly named the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, where he plans to push for an expedited pathway to citizenship for the more than five million unauthorized immigrants who are essential workers.

The son of Mexican immigrants who had little formal education, Mr. Padilla graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became California’s secretary of state and is now the first Latino senator to represent the state with the largest Latino population in the country.

Before delivering his first floor speech in the Senate on Monday afternoon, he sat down with The New York Times to talk about his vision for the office and what he wants to get done in Congress. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about your family’s story.

How much time do you have? My parents came to United States in the late ’60s. They met in Los Angeles. They’re from different regions of Mexico. They found jobs, they found each other, they fell in love, decided to get married, and they applied for green cards. That was the sequence. I thank the U.S. government every day for saying yes to their applications.

They became legal residents. They started a family in the San Fernando Valley. They came with very limited education. In hindsight, it makes all the sense in the world why they emphasized education so much for my sister, my brother and I. My mom had a chance to finish grade school; my dad wasn’t so lucky. For 40 years, he was a short-order cook. My mom cleaned houses. On that modest income, they raised three of us.

When I got the acceptance letter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I had never been east of El Paso. So it was a little scary. But I knew I had to go for two reasons: One, it was the chance of a lifetime. Second, I wanted the fulfillment of my parents’ dreams, to know their work and their struggle and their sacrifice were all worthwhile.


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