US Sen. Alex Padilla pushes to grant 5 million undocumented workers 'long overdue' citizenship
Published in News & Features
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Luz Ramirez longs for a day when she can visit her mother in Mexico. The two haven’t connected in-person for 23 years.
During that time, Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant, has worked in the Central Valley fields picking strawberries and cherries while also fearing deportation. But the years she’s spent in the fields may soon allow Ramirez to return to her homeland and see her mother once again.
She is among the estimated 5 million undocumented workers across the U.S. that would be eligible for a pathway to citizenship under a new proposal by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif. The legislation targets individuals who worked in sectors —that include farm workers like Ramirez — deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel like sometimes we are drowning and we don’t have anyone to help us get out from where we are, but this would be a great change for us because we could see our loved ones while they are living,” said Ramirez, whose father died in Mexico in 2020.
For Padilla and advocates, this current bill is an effort to honor the sacrifices workers made during the pandemic and recognize their importance even when not in a public health emergency. Padilla, a son of Mexican immigrants, has committed himself to immigration reform since entering the Senate.
Nearly three out of four undocumented immigrants in the workforce were employed in essential sectors, according to Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute based in Washington D.C. In Padilla’s bill, essential sectors include agriculture, health care, construction, emergency response, sanitation, food, child care, transportation and hotels and hospitality.
“They were called essential and we can’t go back to a normal of just treating them as invisible and disposable again,” said Antonio De Loera-Brust, a spokesperson with United Farm Workers, a labor union for farmworkers.
But the bill is also yet another attempt at widespread immigration reform, a feat the federal government has tried to accomplish on a national level for decades. Last year, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed twice in the U.S. House but never came to a vote in the Senate. The bill’s passage seemed imminent, but did not receive enough Republican support.
Padilla called it “long overdue” to modernize the immigration system.
“We can’t forget the sacrifices these workers made, and still make every single day, for our country,” Padilla said. “Our essential workers have more than earned their place in this country.”
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