Not only Republicans and former President Donald Trump opposed the border package, but some Democrats also did not support it.
Despite the deal being the result of months of bipartisan negotiations, Democrats like Sen. Alex Padilla found it challenging to sell. Sen. Padilla revealed to POLITICO that President Joe Biden was fully aware of his concerns.
In a recent interview, Padilla expressed his frustrations and shared his concerns with the ongoing negotiations. He had been vocal about his views and objections for several months now, even when rumors about the proposed package were circulating. Unfortunately, the package, which aimed to enhance border security and provide aid to Ukraine and Israel, did not receive enough votes to move forward.
The senior senator from California, a strong ally of Biden, took a firm stance against the agreement. This decision, which would have been a significant win for the administration in an election year, addresses an issue that has been consistently unpopular with the public.
One of the main concerns he had was the absence of a provision allowing people brought to the U.S. as children or other groups like farmworkers to attain legal residency. According to him, this not only represents a great injustice but also marks a notable departure from previous negotiations.
During our interview, we had the opportunity to speak with the senator and gather his insights on what could have been one of the most impactful immigration bills in recent memory.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
You have voiced your concerns about the Senate border security bill for various reasons, including the limitations it places on asylum and the exclusion of you and other members of the Hispanic caucus from the discussions. Are there any aspects of the bill that you actually support?
I believe the bill does have some positive aspects. It includes additional funding, although it falls short of what is truly needed, to hire more hearing officers and immigration judges who can efficiently process asylum claims. The main challenge we face is the overwhelming volume of cases. Currently, less than half of those who seek asylum are granted protection, and this process can take many years. It is encouraging to see efforts to increase capacity, but the allocated numbers in the bill are insufficient. Additionally, there is only minimal funding provided for the Shelter and Services Program (SSP), which plays a crucial role in helping local governments and community-based organizations offer support services to migrants.
I want to emphasize that I am in favor of providing additional aid to Ukraine. I also support providing additional aid to Israel, especially in terms of humanitarian funds required for the region, as well as Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. However, I do not believe that this should come at the cost of implementing poor border policies, and this is my evaluation of the outcome of the negotiations.
Why do you think President Joe Biden said he would sign the legislation if it passed, despite the criticism from you and other Democrats?
I have expressed my views and concerns to the President regarding this question for months now. I started sharing my thoughts when the negotiations first began and rumors about the potential deal started circulating. It’s not just the aspects of the deal that I found problematic; there were also important elements that were missing, which should be a cause for concern.
Throughout history, it has become evident that relying solely on enforcement measures is not effective. The attempt to close the border, as seen during Trump’s implementation of Title 42, did not yield the desired results. In fact, the numbers of border crossings actually increased. Therefore, it is perplexing to me why the same approach is being taken once again.
The approval and signing of this package by the president would not have provided any assistance to the dreamers, farmworkers, or essential workers. They are in need of a pathway to legalization, which this package would not have achieved. In my opinion, this is not only a great injustice but also a significant departure from previous negotiations. Democrats have always been steadfast in their commitment to balancing immigration discussions with enforcement measures that provide relief to long-term undocumented residents of the United States. Unfortunately, it seems that this balance has been overlooked in the current negotiations.
What prompted your decision to distance yourself from President Biden at this particular moment? As someone who has generally been in favor of the administration, do you have any concerns about the potential political consequences?
I took a stand based on my own sense of right and wrong. As the representative of California, I take pride in representing not only the most populous state with the largest economy, but also the most diverse state with a significant immigrant population. It is evident that immigrants play a vital role in the prosperity and resilience of our communities and nation. Therefore, it is essential for us to uphold these values.
Did the administration reach out to you, either before or after you made your opposition public?
We have been having frequent conversations for several months now. This was something that we expected.
What is the issue with the bill that includes a cap on asylum at the southwest border and raises the legal threshold for determining initial stage asylum qualifications for individuals encountered at the border?
During conversations with colleagues, including those from different political affiliations and those directly involved in the negotiations, it became evident that the intention was not solely to raise the standards for seeking asylum. The ultimate objective was to reduce the overall number of individuals seeking asylum.
When I responded to their claims, I emphasized that no matter how difficult the process of seeking asylum becomes or how high the wall is built, the number of asylum seekers will not decrease unless we address the underlying reasons. It is crucial to understand why so many people feel the need to come to the United States. It is important to note that the majority of these individuals are not coming directly from Mexico, although they do pass through Mexico. They are fleeing oppressive regimes in countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and other places. In the past, this fact used to be widely acknowledged without controversy. However, the political landscape has shifted significantly for Republicans since Donald Trump entered the scene.
In order to effectively tackle the root causes of migration, it is crucial for us to collaborate with other countries in the region. This means engaging with Mexico, as well as Central and South American countries, to find a comprehensive solution to the migration challenge that spans the entire hemisphere. Unfortunately, the border package released on Sunday did not adequately address this need for a hemispheric approach.
The bill also aimed to grant permanent status to the 80,000 Afghan refugees who were admitted to the U.S. on parole once the Taliban regained control. Additionally, it would have allowed individuals aged 21 and over to maintain their parents’ green card status. How do you respond to those who will now be deprived of this relief, particularly the many residing in California?
I fully support the idea and believe that we should take action on it as soon as possible. The bill I am referring to is the one that focuses on a specific group of young individuals known as documented dreamers. It is a bill that has received support from both parties. The reason it has not made progress is that Republicans, in private, express their support for various issues but insist on first securing the border. They initially agreed to address the border issue and then abandoned it. What disappoints and angers me the most is the lack of sincerity from Republicans. They claim to want a solution, but when it seems within reach, they bow down to Trump’s orders to delay it until November.
Is there any takeaway from this that suggests there is no space for compromise in today’s political climate?
I’m determined and committed to not giving up. Since I joined the Senate three years ago, I have consistently strived to engage my colleagues on important issues such as modernizing our immigration system and ensuring justice for dreamers, farmworkers, and others. This unwavering effort will continue as I remain steadfast in my pursuit.
Months of bipartisan negotiations culminated in the creation of this bill, which is a groundbreaking development in immigration legislation that hasn’t been seen in decades. However, its apparent failure raises questions about the likelihood of any future action on this issue.
I strongly disagree with that. Back in 2013, there was a bipartisan package that successfully passed the Senate, but unfortunately, the House did not take it up. It was under Boehner’s leadership that the House walked away from it. Similarly, in 2018, there was another promising package that was well on its way, but Donald Trump unexpectedly instructed Republican senators to vote against it, causing it to fall short. Now, in 2024, Republicans claim that they want to address the border issue, but when it comes to sitting down and negotiating a package, they all end up being no votes. It’s disheartening to see such lack of seriousness from the Republicans. As a result, we are left waiting for them to truly prioritize this matter.