WASHINGTON — California's Sen. Alex Padilla led his first judiciary subcommittee hearing this week on an issue that is especially important to him: immigration.

"Big responsibility. No time to waste. It is time to get to work," he said.  

What You Need To Know

  • Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., led his first Judiciary subcommittee hearing this week

  • Padilla is California's first Latino senator, and it's the first time a Latino has chaired a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety

  • "I sit here today as the embodiment of their American dream, the son of immigrants from Mexico," Padilla said.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, said Congress should take up the surge in migrants at the southern border before considering any kind of immigration reform

It was not Padilla's only milestone that day.

Wednesday's hearing was also the Senate's first hearing on immigration this year, and it was on the first bill Padilla introduced: the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.

If passed, the bill would create a pathway to citizenship for essential workers who are undocumented immigrants.

On Thursday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus endorsed Padilla's bill that could affect more than five million workers.

"It's personal to me as a proud son of immigrant parents, but it's also I think, very timely for what our nation is going through. We're still trying to make our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's important that we recognize so many of the essential workers that have sacrificed to help get us through the pandemic," Padilla said.

At the start of the hearing, Padilla took a moment to reflect on his upbringing. For Padilla, both his parents emigrated from Mexico and raised three children in Los Angeles. His parents worked hard to apply for a green card and then gain citizenship, but he said not everyone is as fortunate.

He said no matter how hard an immigrant works, even if they are labeled essential by the Trump administration, their permanent residency is not guaranteed.

"My parents worked tirelessly for 40 years to realize that dream. My father as a short-order cook and my mom as a housekeeper," he said during opening remarks. "I sit here today as the embodiment of their American dream, the son of immigrants from Mexico."

It was the first time a Latino chaired a Senate Subcommittee hearing on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety. 

Padilla received nods from both sides of the aisle for his story, but the political divide on immigration quickly came into focus.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, the subcommittee's senior Republican, said Congress should take up the surge in migrants at the southern border before considering any immigration reform.

"We're facing a crisis at the southern border right now, and I don't want to be painting the house while the house is on fire," Cornyn said.

Cornyn said Padilla's bill might encourage illegal immigration and does not do anything for border enforcement, something congressional Republicans insist can help border control. 

However, Padilla was unmoved.

He said there is no reason not to consider immigration reform and that recognizing frontline workers who are immigrants can help their families and the economy as a whole.

"It's a very different group of people," Padilla said. "We do need to restore the asylum system from the devastation of the Trump administration. My bill, this hearing, is focused on the 11 million people who have been here in the United States, most of them for nearly 20 years, the vast majority of them working paying taxes contributing to this country; they deserve better than to live in the shadows in fear of deportation."

Padilla said he hopes his bill on essential workers will pass and bring momentum to comprehensive immigration reform in the weeks to come. 

However, opposition from Cornyn in the hearing signals this bill has a steep hill to climb to get the 60 votes it needs to clear the Senate.