Alex Padilla

Democratic U.S. Senator from California

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom named Alex Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Vice Pres. Kamala Harris in 2020, he was reelected to a full term in the 2022 midterms. Padilla is the first Latino to serve in the U.S. Senate from California, a state where Latinos make up 40 percent of the population, and the first Latino to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration subcommittee.

The son of Mexican immigrants who met while applying for green cards, Padilla was first drawn into politics in 1994 to campaign against Proposition 187. The ballot measure, which was approved by voters but never enforced, would have denied services such as healthcare and public education to undocumented immigrants. Padilla saw the measure as symptomatic of a broader anti-immigrant sentiment gaining traction at the time. “Seeing the harsh rhetoric of that campaign and the political climate around it, I realized I had no choice,” said Padilla. “I had to get involved so that families like mine, communities like mine, would not continue to be scapegoated or targeted.”

While he served as a California state senator from 2006 to 2014, Padilla quietly worked to increase access to public services for California’s undocumented population, including making undocumented students eligible for financial aid, permitting issuance of driver’s licenses to individuals without proof of citizenship or lawful status, and to prohibit law enforcement from detaining anyone solely on the basis of their immigration status.

Immigration is one of Padilla’s top priorities: In his first year as a U.S. senator, he introduced seven pieces of immigration legislation, more than all but three other senators in the 117th Congress. Through his bills, he has sought to create pathways to citizenship for veterans and their families, essential workers, and young people who entered the U.S. legally as the children of visa-holders but aged out of protected status (also known as “documented Dreamers”). He also introduced a bill that would allow any noncitizen to apply for a green card if they had resided in the U.S. continuously for more than seven years.

Padilla is willing to work with his Republican colleagues — and equally willing to go around them. He has cooperated on legislation with more moderate Republicans, including Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and took part in bipartisan negotiations between fellow Democrat Dick Durbin and Republicans Thom Tillis and John Cornyn. But he was also one of the key players in a last-ditch effort to create a pathway to citizenship and recapture unused green cards through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process in 2021. When the Senate parliamentarian blocked the measures, saying they went too far beyond budgetary concerns, Padilla initially held the line, saying the budget would “have a hard time passing the Senate if there’s not something on immigration.” But after repeated failures to appease the parliamentarian, Padilla ultimately voted for the budget without any provisions on immigration.

He also tried to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to disincentivize the deportation of long-term residents of the U.S.; to prevent criminal sentences that have been dismissed, vacated, or pardoned from affecting an individual’s immigration status; and to ensure people stopped for inspection while trying to enter the U.S. have access to counsel.


Padilla’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    After the 2021 incident in Del Rio, Texas, that led to a charged confrontation between Border Patrol agents and Haitian migrants, Padilla introduced a bill to create an oversight commission that would recommend “policies to protect civil rights and improve the safety of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.” The bill also would create a community liaison office to consult border communities on policy changes.

  • Border Wall

    “Trump’s border wall is a waste of time and taxpayer money,” Padilla tweeted in 2018. “What we need is comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.”

  • Detention

    In 2021, Padilla signed a letter arguing for a decrease in funding for immigration enforcement and detention centers, calling the expansion of ICE “excessive and unnecessary” and arguing that the majority of non-detained migrants attend their immigration court dates.

  • Immigration Courts

    Padilla signed a letter in support of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), a union that was decertified under the Trump administration, arguing that the union’s ability to bargain collectively helped protect its independence from partisan political pressure.

  • Undocumented Population

    As a state senator for California’s District 20, Padilla consistently voted yes on measures expanding undocumented immigrants’ access to public services, including student financial aid and driver's licenses. In Congress, he has introduced bills to create pathways to citizenship for noncitizen veterans and essential workers, as well as a bill that would allow any immigrant to apply for a green card if they have resided in the U.S. for more than seven years.

  • ICE

    In 2021, Padilla signed a letter arguing for a decrease in funding for ICE agents and for immigration enforcement and detention centers generally, calling the expansion of ICE “excessive and unnecessary.”

  • DACA

    Padilla is a vocal supporter of DACA, arguing that “Dreamers make our nation, our state, and our communities stronger.” He has expressed hope that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for Dreamers. In 2021, he signed a letter asking the DHS to expand DACA’s protections to Documented Dreamers.

  • Asylum & Refugees

    Padilla supported the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would eliminate the one-year deadline for filing asylum applications.

  • Central America Policy

    Padilla supported the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which sought to address root causes of emigration from Central America by investing $1 billion annually through 2025 in a wide range of economic development, pro-democracy, and anti-crime initiatives.

  • Visas

    Padilla co-sponsored the RELIEF Act, which would prevent spouses and children of employment-based visa recipients from counting against the total number of employment-based visas eligible per year. It would also eliminate per-country caps on employment-based visas. He has also called on Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to address backlogged student visa processing.

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