Padilla Chairs First Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee On Pathway To Citizenship for Essential Workers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) became the first Latino Senator to chair the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety. The hearing focused on the need for Congress to pass legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers who have kept communities across the country up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential workers.
Padilla introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act as his first bill in the U.S. Senate – the bill creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers. Padilla has also advocated for the bill to be included in President Biden’s infrastructure package.
Padilla began the hearing talking about his personal story. As the son of immigrants and first Latino Senator from California, immigration reform is a top priority for Padilla. He stressed the urgent need to pass comprehensive immigration reform–specifically creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrant essential workers–and emphasized the importance of bringing back justice and dignity to the immigration system.
Padilla questioned key experts on the positive impacts that come with granting a pathway to citizenship for essential workers, including Associate Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center (USIPC) at University of California, San Diego, Dr. Tom Wong, President of Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein and nurse and TPS holder, Ms. Rose Tilus.
During the hearing, Padilla asked Dr. Wong about the economic impact of granting citizenship to essential workers, including the impact on post-pandemic economic recovery. Dr. Wong listed several academic studies, pointing to immigrants’ entrepreneurism, industries that rely on immigrant labor, and their economic contributions as consumers in the U.S. market that makes them essential for long term economic growth.
Padilla also noted that health care workers have experienced unimaginable trauma during COVID-19, creating a negative impact on their mental health. Ms. Tilus described her trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic in depth – including the long hours she worked and deaths of her patients. After pointing out the sacrifice essential workers have given during this pandemic, Padilla went on to as Ms. Tilus what would it mean for her to have a pathway to citizenship. She responded saying that it would be “a dream come true.”
Padilla went on to ask Mr. Goldstein what would happen to our nation’s food supply if our undocumented farmworkers – who put food on the table for people across the country – were to be deported. Goldstein stated that it would be a catastrophe.
Key Opening Remarks Excerpts:
- It’s a profound personal honor for me to convene this hearing, here in the United States Senate, on the essential role of immigrant workers in America. I am the proud son of two immigrant workers, and I know firsthand the value that immigrants bring to this country. Like so many others, my mother and father came here to make a better life.
- I sit here today as the embodiment of their American Dream: the son of immigrants from Mexico, now serving in the United States Senate, presiding over a hearing to discuss immigration.
- In fact, Senator Cornyn, no states have more at stake in immigration policy than California and Texas. Together our states are home to more than one third of the country’s foreign-born population.
- During the course of the pandemic, when hundreds of thousands of people were in the process of dying in our country, these immigrant essential workers risked their own lives and the lives of their families to ensure that Americans still had food on the tables, that our children and elderly were cared for, and that our health care centers and other facilities were cleaned and sanitized.
- The first bill I’ve introduced as a United States Senator was the “Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.” It would create a pathway to citizenship for the over 5 million essential workers without permanent legal status who have kept Americans healthy, fed, and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- We can’t keep the people who’ve been working on the frontlines, who are part of our communities, who’ve been here for decades, waiting for the shot at the American dream that they have earned. It’s time to reform our immigration system to promote justice, protect dignity, and better reflect the needs of our country.
Key Questioning Excerpts:
- PADILLA: Immigrant essential workers are integrated into our communities and clearly into our workforce. On average, these immigrant essential workers have lived in the United States for 18 years. One in five of them have lived in the United States for more than 25 years. They pay state and federal taxes, pay rent or a mortgage, they buy goods and services, and many even start new businesses that support other jobs for native born Americans. And yet, their immigration status can hold them back from reaching their full potential and from becoming fully integrated into the American economy. […] What impact would granting immigrant essential workers legal status have on American workers and the United States economy?
WONG: Yes, undocumented essential workers already make significant economic contributions and have deep roots in American society. And yes, providing them with legal status will not only improve their lives and the lives of their families, but can boost the broader American economy. […] Data from the Census Survey of Business Owners also shows that foreign born persons open about one quarter of new businesses, immigrants also innovate and account for about one quarter of all US patents. According to new American economy, the 3 million immigrant entrepreneurs in the country employ approximately 8 million American workers. So, indeed their entrepreneurism makes them essential for long term growth and our post pandemic economic recovery.
- PADILLA: Many healthcare workers have experienced unimaginable trauma in witnessing the deaths of the patients they’re caring for. Often they were unable to provide medical interventions because of a lack of medical supplies such as ventilators, and some were the last people their patients saw before they died. A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post in the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 64% of healthcare workers reported COVID-19 having a negative impact on their mental health. In addition, undocumented immigrant healthcare workers have had the additional stress of fearing deportation while caring for their patients and serving their communities. […] Can you describe how your mental health was affected during the pandemic?
TILUS: Yes, so, the pandemic has definitely affected my mental health, to say the least. When the pandemic initially started last year, I was working at a nursing home and our patients were dying by great numbers. There was fear of not knowing what’s going to happen, are we going to contract COVID? And what are we going to do for patients that depended on us for help? Many times, we have to hold their hands, while family members couldn’t come to see them because of our isolation regulations, knowing that that was their last breath.
- PADILLA: What would it mean to you to have a pathway to permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship? What would that mean to you?
TILUS: It would be a dream come true.
- PADILLA: For many Americans, the pandemic was the first time that were really forced to really think about where food comes from. There was a lot of concern that we would face food shortages or supply chain challenges. But even as toilet paper and hand sanitizer disappeared from shelves, our grocery stores were quickly restocked and that was because farmworkers continued showing up to work each day to feed the country. They risked – and sometimes lost their lives for the rest of us. But even when the pandemic ends, so many farmworkers will still be at risk of deportation. Mr. Goldstein, what would happen to our nation’s food supply if undocumented farmworkers were deported?
GOLDSTEIN: We depend on immigrants to produce our food in this country and a majority of those immigrants are undocumented immigrants. […] If any significant number of them were to be deported, it would be a catastrophe.
Full transcript of Padilla’s opening remarks as delivered can be found below:
PADILLA: My name is Alex Padilla, honored to serve as chair of this subcommittee. And I thank those of you who are tuning in or joining us today. Today is not just the first hearing of this subcommittee in this Congress; it is also my first time serving as chair of this subcommittee.
I want to begin by thanking all the witnesses today and the members of the committee who are joining us both in person and virtually. And I’d particularly like to thank Chairman Durbin and the committee staff for their support and guidance in helping us hold this hearing. I also want to thank Senator Cornyn, Ranking Member and his team for their cooperation organizing today.
Now before I begin my opening remarks, I would like to share a video highlighting the importance of essential workers.
So, it’s a profound personal honor for me to convene this hearing, here in the United States Senate, on the essential role of immigrant workers in America.
I am the proud son of two immigrant workers, and I know firsthand the value that immigrants bring to this country.
Like so many others, my mother and father came here to make a better life.
They arrived in California from different parts of Mexico in the 1960s.
They, like so many others, came with a belief in the promise of the American Dream: that no matter where you are from, if you work hard, you can contribute to your community and build a better future for your children.
My parents worked tirelessly for forty years to realize that dream—my father as a short-order cook and my mom as a housekeeper.
When they first met, they fell in love, and they decided to apply for green cards, in that order. Eventually they became American citizens, and along the way, they had and raised three children to believe in the value of hard work, getting a good education, and service to others.
I sit here today as the embodiment of their American Dream: the son of immigrants from Mexico, now serving in the United States Senate, presiding over a hearing to discuss immigration.
So yes, immigration is personal to me and important to my state.
In fact, Senator Cornyn, no states have more at stake in immigration policy than California and Texas. Together our states are home to more than one third of the country’s foreign-born population.
Now I know I sit here because of my parents’ many years of hard, essential work, but also because of their good fortune.
However, too many immigrants across the country – with the same values and drive to succeed as my parents – are left to struggle against the arbitrary and unfair rules of our immigration system.
Too many immigrants lack basic workplace protections because of their immigration status.
Too many families are denied critical aid.
And yet, America depends on the labor of immigrants.
Immigrants are critical to our strength in every essential industry, from agriculture and education to health care, domestic work, construction, food processing, technology, and many more.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five jobs deemed essential by the United States government was held by an immigrant.
Almost three-quarters of undocumented immigrants work in an essential industry.
Day in and day out, immigrants have put their own health and their families’ health on the line to keep America running.
Immigrants disproportionately work in the kinds of jobs that cannot be done by Zoom or Webex or any platform.
Now during the course of the pandemic, when hundreds of thousands of people were in the process of dying in our country, these immigrant essential workers risked their own lives and the lives of their families to ensure that Americans still had food on the tables, that our children and elderly were cared for, and that our health care centers and other facilities were cleaned and sanitized.
They have more than earned the security and protection in this country for which they have sacrificed so much.
Let us take a moment to reflect on that fact that the United States government deems these immigrants essential to keeping our country running and keeping Americans alive, yet that same government denies them any permanent protections.
The first bill I’ve introduced as a United States Senator was the “Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.” It would create a pathway to citizenship for the over 5 million essential workers without permanent legal status who have kept Americans healthy, fed, and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And I thank so many of my colleagues for cosponsoring the bill so far, including Leader Schumer, Chairman Durbin, and Senators Warren, Sanders, Blumenthal, Booker, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Markey, Van Hollen, Whitehouse, Baldwin, and Coons.
The immigrant workers who have sacrificed and served for us through the pandemic have earned more than platitudes – they have earned citizenship.
Strengthening legal protections for immigrants, and creating new paths to citizenship, will also grow our economy and improve workplaces for all.
Now I know that some of my colleagues may claim that we can’t take action on immigration reforms that have broad bipartisan support because of the growing number of asylum seekers arriving at our southern border.
While there’s clearly more work to be done, the fact is, the Biden-Harris administration has already made significant progress at establishing a well-managed and secure border while also treating people more fairly and more humanely, despite what the Trump Administration left behind.
Indeed, the number of children in Customs and Border Protection facilities has dropped 85% since late March, and the amount of time children spend in these facilities has fallen by about 77% over the same time frame.
So, I don’t want us to misrepresent the asylum process at the border as the entirety of our immigration system. How we address the status of those who are already here is an entirely separate issue.
We can’t keep the people who’ve been working on the frontlines, who are part of our communities, who’ve been here for decades, waiting for the shot at the American dream that they have earned.
It’s time to reform our immigration system to promote justice, protect dignity, and better reflect the needs of our country.
For additional information on the hearing, click here.