California Sen. Padilla convinces colleagues to vote against border bill

Breaking with his own party’s leadership and the Biden administration, Democratic California Sen. Alex Padilla helped lead an effort to defeat the bipartisan border security bill that failed to advance again on Thursday.

In an impassioned Senate floor speech, Padilla criticized the legislation as inadequate and encouraged his fellow senators to “do what’s right for Dreamers, farmworkers and other longterm undocumented members of our communities.”

The remarks were his strongest public rebuke yet of the first major immigration reform proposal in years to make headway in Congress.

Padilla’s vigorous opposition to the compromise is the latest example of his willingness to stake out an aggressive, principled position on an issue critical to his state. He was joined by most Republicans, who voted against the bill because they said it did not do enough to secure the border.

The bill included significant security tightening measures but lacked any provisions for legalization of immigrants in the country illegally.

“So the Senate is voting on this package for a second time, but still no vote on the DREAM Act?” he said. “It’s hard to swallow.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he sought Thursday’s floor vote to make the point that Democrats want solutions on the border.

Senators voted 50-43 against the bill, which Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) negotiated for months starting last fall.

A previous vote in February failed by a tally of 49 to 50, well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass. Lankford and Sinema flipped their votes, opposing it this time, as did Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Padilla played a role in encouraging his colleagues to go against the plan. An aide said he had private conversations with Democrats over the past few months and contributed to Sens. Cory Booker of New York and fellow Californian Laphonza Butler also flipping their votes and opposing the bill.

In a statement after the vote, Butler echoed Padilla’s own language, saying the bill “failed to provide comprehensive solutions for critical communities — DACA recipients, farmworkers, and longterm U.S. residents.”

“While there are elements of this bill I support, including funding for our border communities and efforts to prevent the flow of fentanyl, this measure simply misses the mark,” she wrote.

The Senate bill would toughen asylum screenings and speed up the process, as well as give presidents the power to immediately expel migrants if arrivals surpass a certain daily threshold.

Immigration has been a core issue of Padilla’s political identity. In his speech, he recalled returning home to California from college “to find hateful TV ads warning of an ‘invasion’ at our border.” The ads were in support of Proposition 187, the 1994 law that sought to deny medical care, social services and education to immigrants suspected of lacking lawful status.

Padilla said that seeing public officials scapegoat and demonize families like his convinced him to join an ensuing movement to bring more Latinos into positions of power.

That hateful rhetoric is back, Padilla said. He pointed to former President Trump’s statement — echoing those by Adolf Hitler —that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country, and Republicans’ declarations that there is an “invasion” at the southern border.

Padilla said that’s undeniably part of the context in which the border bill was written.

The senator’s independent streak is significant because it comes during a critical election year in which Republicans have seized on the issue of immigration, rallying against Democrats for what they see as soft border policies.

The bipartisan legislation was a fundamental piece of the Biden administration’s shift toward more conservative immigration policies — an effort to help Democrats in vulnerable seats maintain control of the Senate and regain control of the House.

Padilla’s decision to publicly oppose the president on this issue exemplifies a growing rift among Democrats on immigration.

The senator campaigned in 2022 on his desire to reform the immigration system and personally warned Biden in mid-December not to fold to the GOP.

In his speech Thursday, Padilla pointed out that the immigration proposal was originally meant as a concession to get Republicans to agree to send more aid to Ukraine.

“But guess what, Mr. President? We passed the foreign aid!” he said. “And so I can’t help but ask, what’s this concession for now?”

He also critiqued executive actions on immigration that Biden is reportedly set to announce in the coming weeks, calling them “extreme.” Thursday’s vote was widely seen as a leadup to those measures, which could include one provision that would allow the administration to broadly block migrants from entering the country.

Before the vote, Padilla warned colleagues that history would judge them.

“We should be better than this,” he said.

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Kevin harson

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