New California Senator Alex Padilla on increasing COVID vaccinations and passing immigration reform

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy

Alex Padilla speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0).

California Democratic Senator Alex Padilla is in Inglewood today, touring the coronavirus mass vaccination site at SoFi Stadium. 

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Latinos and other communities of color, but state data shows that fewer than 20% of the vaccines administered in California have gone to Latinos. Padilla says low numbers could be attributed to inaccurate information driving vaccine hesitancy. 

“We have to get the right information out there. Yes, the vaccine is safe. Yes, the vaccine is effective. I've had it, I'm doing okay. It's so important to not only protect our own health, but the health of families, the health of the community, and how we're collectively going to get to the other side of the pandemic,” he tells KCRW.

Padilla says he’s also working to ensure large vaccination sites are open and easily accessible. That includes the one at Cal State LA. Last week, news spread of the site closing on April 11, but the senator says that’s simply the date when LA County’s contract with FEMA ends. 

“We're working with FEMA to see if that contract can be extended, or be transitioned from a federal facility to possibly a state or county facility. In one way, shape, or form, it should continue to operate, and there should be a seamless transition from a community perspective.”

Citizenship for undocumented essential workers

Padilla has been on the job for just over two months, but he’s already set a big goal for himself, one that’s proven nearly impossible in the Senate since the 1980s. That’s passing imigration reform. 

“First of all, it is long overdue. Second, the increased numbers of arrivals at the border is a reminder of two things: how urgent it is to improve our immigration policy and infrastructure for the nation, but also the mess that was left by the prior administration.”

He says bipartisan support already exists for policy proposals on “Dreamers,” TPS (temporary protected status) holders, and farm workers. It’s now just a matter of finding enough votes to pass legislation. 

Earlier this month, Padilla unveiled the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented essential workers. “The very workers that we've all been praising in health care and agriculture and transportation and construction during the course of this pandemic, my god, they have earned an opportunity to become citizens of the United States.”

A growing number of migrants at the border

Padilla calls the influx of migrants at the border the result of two things: a seasonal uptick seen every spring and the inaction of the Trump administration to address immigration. 

“The fact that you're seeing the environment that you see at the border right now is, again, a reflection of a complete lack of resources left by the prior administration. When folks present themselves at the border seeking asylum, which is a legal option to do, there is a due process involved,” Padilla says. “If we look at the cruel situations and environment of the prior four years, the Biden administration is trying to do it much better, and it's taking a minute to make those changes in personnel and facilities.“ 

Padilla says the most effective changes in immigration must come from Congress, not President Biden via executive order. He adds that it’s still crucial to support the undocumented residents living in the U.S. 

“Let's not let the situation at the border distract from the more than 11 million people who are here undocumented but have been living here, working here, paying taxes here, contributing to the success of the United States. They deserve security. They deserve stability. They deserve a pathway to citizenship.”

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