March 15, 2021 - Issue: Vol. 167, No. 48 — Daily Edition117th Congress (2021 - 2022) - 1st Session
Maiden Speech (Executive Session); Congressional Record Vol. 167, No. 48
(Senate - March 15, 2021)
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[Pages S1519-S1521] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] Maiden Speech Mr. PADILLA. Madam President, on behalf of the people of California, it is my honor to address this body today. I stand before you, humbled and inspired by this moment in our Nation's history, as the Senator from the most populous and most diverse State in the Nation and as the first Latino Senator from the State of California. Let me begin by saying what a great country this is. My name is Alex Padilla. (English translation of statement made in Spanish is as follows:) I am the son of Santos and Lupe Padilla. I am also the proud husband of Angela Padilla and the proud rad dad of Roman, Alex, and Diego. I love you guys. Colleagues, my family's journey is central to my public service. My parents immigrated to California from Mexico in the 1960s in search of a better life. They arrived from different regions of Mexico, with little formal education but with a tremendous work ethic and big dreams. They met in Los Angeles. They fell in love. They decided to get married and apply for green cards--in that order. I thank the U.S. Government every day for saying yes to those applications, because, if they had been denied, no doubt my life story would be a lot different. For 40 years, my father worked as a short order cook--hard work, honest work--and as he will proudly tell you, his kitchen never failed an inspection. For the same 40 years, my mom worked tirelessly cleaning houses. It seemed like she never had a day off, but, together, they raised three of us--my sister, my brother, and me--in a modest, three- bedroom home in the proud, working-class community of Pacoima, CA, in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Now, our neighborhood had more than its share of challenges--from poverty to crime to unhealthy air. It might not have been the safest neighborhood, but my mom felt blessed that we had the sanctuary of a backyard and a strong sense of community. It was there that my parents taught us about the values of service to others and of getting a good education. Today, my sister, my brother, and I are all public servants. My sister has been a teacher, a principal, and, today, she works in administration for the Los Angeles Unified School District. My brother serves as chief of staff to Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez. If you pay close attention there, yes, I am the middle child. It may explain a lot. Think about that. In one generation, our family has gone from being immigrant cooks and house cleaners to serving in the U.S. Senate. That is the California dream. That is the American dream. That is the dream I was raised to believe in and the dream that Angela and I are working hard to keep alive for our children and for future generations. I think about my parents often, and I think about all of the hard- working people in our State and in our Nation who are hurting right now. I rise today on their behalf. I rise on behalf of the cooks, the dishwashers, and the domestic workers who have seen their jobs and their lives upended by the COVID- 19 pandemic. I rise on behalf of the farmworkers and delivery drivers and nurses who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic and who have never stopped showing up. I rise on behalf of the 4 million small businesses in California and the business owners, many who are hanging on by a thread and stretching like they [[Page S1520]] have never stretched before to meet payroll. I rise on behalf of the nearly 2.5 million California families who are behind on their rent or behind on their mortgages, with bills piling up, wondering how they will ever climb out of the hole. I rise on behalf of the 11.2 million California adults who struggled to meet basic household expenses last year, including many who relied on food pantries just to get by. I rise on behalf of the 56,000 California families and the more than 530,000 families across America who have lost a loved one, many who died alone in a hospital room or a nursing home, deprived of the last chance to hold hands or say goodbye. The people of my State are hurting; the people of our country are hurting, and we have a long way to go before we get back. The greatest crisis of our lifetimes demands bold action. ``Building back better'' demands that we build back better for everybody and that we leave nobody and no community behind. To do so requires that we open our eyes to the deep, systemic inequities that have been exposed and exacerbated by this crisis. In my State, the reality is that there are two Californias just as there are really two Americas--one for families who struggle to pay the rent and make ends meet, who struggle to keep hope alive, and one for those who can afford to work from home or from a second home, who can more easily weather this storm. We see two Californias where Latino, Black, and Asian households are three times as likely to be behind on the rent. It is the story of the single mom who lost her job due to the pandemic and who has depleted her entire savings to keep a roof over her family's head. We see two Californias where employment has actually increased for people earning more than $60,000 a year while some parents are left to make the impossible choice of either paying for food or paying their utility bills so their kids can still log into online class. We see two Californias, where the stock market reaches new highs for some, while in the San Fernando Valley, too many families depend on city or church food distribution sites to feed their children. We see two Californias, where there is a stark disparity in who is getting vaccinated and who is not. Just take, for example, the city of Beverly Hills, where more than 25 percent of residents have received their first shot. That is a good thing. What is not so good is that in South LA, less than 15 miles away, the rate is just 5 percent. And we see two Californias in the impact the pandemic has had on immigrant communities--communities on the very frontlines of this crisis. I recently announced my first bill, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would provide a well-earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have risked their health as essential workers. These are the workers whom we have all depended on during this pandemic. Now, millions of us have offered tremendous gestures and thanks for their heroism and their hard work. Let's be honest with ourselves. Many of these workers woke up before dawn today and took a bus to work so that others could ``Zoom to work'' from the comfort of their own homes. These essential workers take care of our loved ones. They keep the supply chain moving. They grow and harvest our food, stock the shelves at grocery stores, and will even deliver it to your door. They risk their lives so that others can stay safer at home. We cannot, in good conscience, praise them as essential workers in one breath while denying them the essential human dignity they deserve with the next. Yes, dignity, respect, and a pathway to citizenship for essential workers is personal to me, but it is also in the best interest of our Nation. These immigrants are paying more than their fair share. They are deemed essential by the Federal Government for good reason, and they have earned the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. We cannot allow the American Dream to be a casualty of this pandemic. Relief and recovery must be for everyone. Now, the American Rescue Plan that this body passed and President Biden just signed into law is a $1.9 trillion downpayment on this promise. It will speed vaccination production and distribution, expand testing and contact tracing, outfit our schools so kids and teachers can safely return to the classroom, provide emergency mortgage and rental assistance to families in need, and it will extend a lifeline to keep millions of American small businesses from going under. Now, I will tell you what it means for my home State. In addition to what this bill will deliver to fight the virus, it also means immediate food assistance for 4.3 million families, an increase in the standard of living for 8 million California children, $15 billion for California schools, $590 million to help combat homelessness on the streets of California, and billions in direct checks for struggling families. The American Rescue Plan provides a lifeline for American families, workers, and businesses to survive what we all hope will be the last months of this crisis. It is one of the most transformational and progressive pieces of legislation in our history, which will cut child poverty in half, including for half a million children in California. But our work is far from over. I believe now is the time to lead an American comeback that leaves no working family behind--a comeback that heals the longstanding divides in our society and unites our country, a comeback that confronts the systemic injustices in our country so that we can build back equitably. It took almost 10 years to recover from the great recession. We lived through the consequences of the moderate response to the financial crisis--slow growth, poor pay, and millions without jobs. We cannot let that happen again. We can and must build back better. That means investing trillions in our infrastructure in a way that uplifts communities and provides millions of good-paying union jobs and in a way that addresses our climate crisis to help ensure that every person has access to clean air and clean water. It also means passing commonsense immigration reform that brings humanity to our immigration system and recognizing that providing a pathway to citizenship for people living and contributing to our country is part--a strategic part--of our economic recovery as well. That means protecting and strengthening our democracy by passing voting rights and civil rights legislation. We should be making it easier, not harder, for eligible people to register to vote, to stay registered to vote, and to vote in every State in the country. But as President Obama said in his farewell address, ``the work of democracy has always been hard. It's always been contentious. Sometimes it's been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels like we take one step back.'' It is no surprise that reactionary State leaders around the country, fearful of losing elections, fearful of losing power, are mobilizing to suppress the vote as we speak. Enough is enough. This Senate must act aggressively to protect the right to vote, to strengthen the right to vote--no more steps back, only steps forward. We must act boldly because that is what this moment demands of us. We can't let anything keep us from bold action and progress, including outdated rules and traditions. We must end the filibuster. For decades, the filibuster has been leveraged to obstruct progress. It helped maintain Jim Crow segregation, and it continues to entrench inequality in America today. We cannot allow the filibuster to prevent us from doing what is necessary to lift up millions of working families in every corner of the country. I believe we will beat this pandemic and get through this crisis. We will do it the same way we always have, the same way my parents did, the same way that American families and millions of immigrants throughout our history have done--by going to work and getting the job done. To my colleagues, I am so honored to serve with you and look forward to working alongside you for years to come. To my constituents, I am honored to represent you, and I will work hard every day to make you proud. [[Page S1521]] And to Angela, Roman, Alex, and Diego, I love you. Thank you for your love and your support of my public service. I yield the floor. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee. Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that Senators Lujan, Carper, and myself be allowed to complete our remarks before the rollcall vote. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.