LOS ANGELES — In the neighborhood where Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) grew up, undocumented immigrants have long occupied the aging bungalows and faded campers that jam up against roaring freeways.

Ilegales,” his father, Santos Padilla, now 80 and a naturalized U.S. citizen, said with a sweep of his hand following Mass one recent Sunday when asked how he and his late wife arrived in the United States. “Like everyone.”

Alex Padilla became the first Latino senator from California in January when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) appointed him to fill the seat left open by Vice President Harris, and he took over the immigration subcommittee. But he and others have twice failed to convince the Senate parliamentarian that citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States should be included in a budget bill that Democrats hope to pass this year as part of a massive spending package.

In an interview this month in Pacoima, his old neighborhood in Los Angeles, Padilla said he is “not giving up” on citizenship, even as he and other Democrats are planning to return to the parliamentarian with a Plan C. He said one option under this plan is to give millions of undocumented immigrants work permits instead of a path to citizenship, but that is not the only possibility. “There are still better options on the table,” Padilla said, though he would not elaborate.

“I don’t give up that easy,” he said standing beside his father outside Mary Immaculate Church, blocks from where his family settled in the 1960s.

But pressure is growing on Padilla to decide whether he would support Biden’s budget bill if immigration reform drops out. Some lawmakers have already said they will not vote for the spending package without some form of relief for undocumented immigrants and have urged the Senate to ignore the parliamentarian’s advice and include citizenship anyway.

The budget measure is a key vehicle for Democrats in the evenly divided Senate because they can pass it with a majority vote instead of the usual 60.

“They have the power, now they can do it,” said Veronica Lagunas, 43, an immigrant from El Salvador who lives in the Pacoima area and has been in the United States under temporary protected status since 2001. She has a work permit, but no path to citizenship. She and her 17-year-old son, Alex, a U.S. citizen, met Padilla this year while on a hunger strike to call for citizenship.

“They can ignore the parliamentarian and pass something for me, for us,” said Lagunas, a member of the National TPS Alliance, which advocates for hundreds of thousands of immigrants granted temporary protected status because of wars or disasters in their homelands.

Nowhere has more at stake than California, home to 2.2 million undocumented immigrants, the largest share in the nation. The Pew Research Center estimates that fewer than 10 percent are new arrivals. Many have waited years, even decades, for permanent residency, the first step toward citizenship.

Republicans have praised the parliamentarian’s ruling, saying citizenship is a major policy issue that should have input from both parties, like President Biden’s infrastructure bill. And critics note that Democrats are not planning to increase immigration enforcement at a time when apprehensions at the southwest border are the highest in U.S. history.

“It seems to me that the goal is to basically reward the people who have broken the law for the longest,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, an organization that seeks to reduce immigration to pressure employers to raise wages.

She said she believes Democrats could ignore the parliamentarian and pass a citizenship measure, but warned that it could cost them in next year’s congressional elections.

“If this is their number-one priority and they don’t mind losing the majority, sure, they can do it,” Jenks said.

Approximately 1 in 4 residents in Pacoima are not U.S. citizens, city records show, and many are here illegally.

“He’s one of us,” Raul Sandoval, 75, who teaches citizenship classes at Mary Immaculate Church, said of Padilla. “We hope his ideas don’t fall apart.”

The church is one of the few places that immigrants feel free to gather in numbers. They are the white-haired construction worker from El Salvador who directs traffic in the church parking lot, the roofer from Mexico who passes out church fliers at the door, and the green-card holder struggling to pass Sandoval’s citizenship class so that she can obtain legal residency for her 60-year-old husband, who hasn’t seen his mother in Mexico for 21 years.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who grew up near the Padillas and is now the senator’s roommate in Washington, said they sometimes reflect on having been born on this side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Cárdenas said he and Padilla never had to fear immigration agents and a “knock on the door.”

“They live in fear of taking their kids to school and then all of a sudden turning and realizing that this person is going to handcuff them and take them away from their family,” said Cárdenas of undocumented immigrants in an interview. “That is torture.”

Months after Padilla graduated from MIT in 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from public services such as health care and schools. Supporters called the ballot measure “Save our State.”

Padilla, with his mechanical engineering degree in hand, said he returned home and “saw the governor of California on television saying the state’s going downhill and it’s the fault of families like yours and people like your parents.”

His father had worked as a short-order cook, while his mother cleaned houses. Both had joined a neighborhood association to fight drugs and crime. His mother, Guadalupe, who died in 2018, did even more by donating home-cooked meals to day laborers, running an after-school program in her backyard, and sending care packages to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The couple owned a house and sent all three children to college. A daughter became a school administrator and another son is a local political aide.

But Padilla said Proposition 187 also served as an inflection point for Latinos, inspiring his parents to finally apply for U.S. citizenship, while he threw himself into politics, one of many who worked to elect more Latinos to local, state and federal offices.

Now the once Republican-led state is solidly Democratic, and California has state laws allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and pay in-state tuition at colleges. State law also limits local law enforcement from helping federal officials detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

Luis Perez, 40, a formerly undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said the Padilla family rallied around him when he was young, one of seven children to undocumented parents who worked constantly but struggled to pay the bills.

Padilla’s mother invited him to Thanksgiving dinners, paid him to do odd jobs so he’d stay out of trouble, and encouraged him to study.

But the year Perez was accepted into the University of California School of Law, he said, an immigration appeals court ordered his family deported, a decision he fought for years to get overturned.

Perez won his case finally, and asked Padilla to swear him into the state bar.

“There’s no one as passionate as him,” Perez, in charge of the immigration services bureau at the state Department of Social Services, said of Padilla. “He’s been part of it and he knows undocumented people. “To him, it’s is very personal.”

Padilla and others are planning to go back to the Senate parliamentarian in the coming days with Plan C, which is still being discussed, but could include five-year renewable work permits, according to lawmakers and advocates for immigrants working on the plan. Another possibility is making green cards accessible to specific groups, such as undocumented farmworkers and immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

But on Wednesday, more than 40 House Democrats wrote Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urging him to“disregard” the parliamentarian’s findings and go for citizenship, saying she is an “unelected official” and is “denying the economic impact of such legislation.”

“This is a critical moment for our nation’s history, and we strongly urge the presiding officer to use their authority to disregard the Senate Parliamentarian’s ruling,” the letter said.

Padilla, in an interview in his Senate office, said he has tried to negotiate with Republicans and is still willing to do so. He recounted one conversation with a fellow senator, whom he would not identify out of respect.

He said the senator told him, “I like immigrants. My state is pro-immigrant. We need immigrants. Meat processing. Agriculture. This industry, that industry. I get it. Immigrants come here and they work hard to provide for their families. And they have kids and their kids do very well in school and they grow up to be maybe teachers or a firefighter or even a manager at the plant where their parents work.”

Padilla leaned in. “You know what else is possible?” Padilla said he asked the senator. “One of those kids can grow up to be a United States senator.”