Skip to comments.Dem to Obama: Push immigration or Iíll tell Latino voters to stay home
Posted on 04/20/2010 8:21:35 AM PDT by KentTrappedInLiberalSeattle
A congressman from the presidents home state is threatening that he will urge Latino voters to stay home this November if the Democratic Party does not make a concerted effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) is arguably President Barack Obamas biggest Democratic critic in Congress. And hes not fond of Obamas top advisers at the White House, either.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) member has strongly criticized the administrations policy on deportation and questioned its commitment to far-reaching reform.
Some Democrats have felt little urgency in pursuing the controversial issue, partly because they see no risk that Hispanic voters will bolt the party for the GOP. But Gutierrez says they are missing the real political consequence of inaction.
We can stay home, Gutierrez said in an interview with The Hill. We can say, You know what? There is a third option: We can refuse to participate.
For Gutierrez, a former cab driver first elected to represent Chicago in 1992, the shift from close Obama ally to ornery critic has been stark. The lawmaker was one of the former Illinois senators earliest campaign supporters, and as Gutierrez is quick to note he stuck by Obama even as many Hispanic leaders rallied around Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.
When Gutierrez talks about his old Chicago neighbor, he speaks of anger, disillusionment, dissatisfaction and betrayal. He says Obama has failed to keep his campaign commitment to immigration reform, and he decries what he calls an enforcement-only policy in which the administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than in the final year of the George W. Bush administration.
Gutierrez says Latinos have lost patience with Obama, and he predicts an escalation of activism aimed at forcing immigration reform to the fore of the party agenda.
Were going to make it uncomfortable for the Democratic Party, Gutierrez said, adding that immigration advocates would step up the pressure by drawing lessons from the movements for civil rights and womens suffrage. Therell probably be civil disobedience. There will probably be a number of different actions. What we have to do is we have to break through this wall of silence, because were invisible.
Gutierrez is not alone. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a CHC member who serves in the Democratic leadership, said earlier this month that Latinos view the president with suspicion for failing to meet expectations.
Firing salvos is nothing new for Gutierrez, a lawmaker known for his singular and strident advocacy of the immigration cause. In 2008, he compared Border Patrol agents to the Gestapo. More recently, he made a high-profile threat to vote against the healthcare overhaul at its most critical stage.
Few in Washington believed he would vote no, but Gutierrez managed to wrangle a White House meeting and a public nudge from Obama in support of the comprehensive immigration blueprint being developed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Would we have liked him to have done more? Yes, Gutierrez said, acknowledging that Obamas statement reiterating his support for comprehensive immigration reform wasnt the most enthusiastic press release.
Its incremental, he said. Before you run, you walk.
Among his grievances with Obama is the presidents shift in rhetoric. When Obama campaigned, Gutierrez said, he used the phrase undocumented workers. When he addressed Congress on healthcare last September, the president referred to illegal immigrants in insisting that they would not be covered under the administrations plan.
You went from a humanizing definition of the community to a criminalizing definition of the community, Gutierrez said.
The final straw for immigration advocates came in January, the outspoken legislator said, when Obama barely mentioned the issue in his State of the Union address.
He said it with so little enthusiasm, and so little commitment, that they didnt believe him, Gutierrez said, drawing a direct line between that speech and a large rally of immigration advocates in Washington last month that happened to coincide with the final House vote on healthcare.
If you only understood how devastating it was to our sense of hope and our sense of commitment of this president, he said.
Gutierrez, who has not faced a serious electoral challenge since his first term, said he doesnt lambaste the administration because he likes to.
Its very hard. I dont want you to think that its easy, he said. I dont want to pile on. Its just hes got to get this done.
Gutierrez noted that Obama initially promised on the campaign trail that he would pursue immigration reform in 2009, then backtracked. And he vows he will hold the president accountable.
He said, I meet women who are being raped by their employers. I meet children who the government has come early in the morning and taken their dads. I meet someone dying from cancer, an American citizen, who says Luis, can I die knowing that the mother of my children is going to raise [them]? I cant give him that, because theres nothing in the law.
Despite his criticism of Obama, Gutierrez said he is more optimistic about the chances for progress on immigration.
The president transformed from Professor Barack Obama to Lyndon Johnson Barack Obama during the healthcare debate, he said.
Gutierrez noted a number of positive gestures from the White House, including an invitation for him to attend a bill-signing for a jobs measure that, he said, I had nothing to do with.
I dont think I even co-sponsored it. Why did they invite me? Gutierrez wondered, before answering his own question. After he signed the bill, [Obama] came up to me, he said, Hey Luis, I appreciate your support. Were going to work on comprehensive immigration reform.
Gutierrez also pointed to recent comments by Michelle Obama extolling the contributions of immigrants in the U.S. The first lady on Sunday said immigration reform was still on the top of the Obama agenda.
When it comes to a legislative and political path to enacting immigration reform in an election year, Gutierrez is less specific. He grudgingly accepts the consensus opinion that the legislation must start in the Senate, but he makes sure to point out that even there, immigration gets short shrift.
Every other basic fundamental issue we start in the House, he said.
The broader journey for a bill that will create a path to citizenship for the nations 12 million undocumented immigrants has been years in the making.
Gutierrez was a lead co-sponsor, along with Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), of the sweeping bill that passed the Senate in 2006 before stalling amid a conservative revolt in 2007. He nearly quit the House after the effort failed in 2007, but he changed his mind and decided to stay and pursue what has become the cause of his career.
This has kept me in Congress, the 56-year-old lawmaker said.
The House Democrat is not shy in blasting Obamas closest advisers. Asserting that he is not culpable for what the administration does or does not do, Gutierrez said, Im not at the White House. Rahm [Emanuel] is there. [David] Axelrods there. And I dont know that theyre giving him the best advice.
Gutierrez scoffs when it is pointed out that Obama nominated the first Latina to the Supreme Court and pushed for immigration reform-friendly provisions in the 2009 childrens healthcare insurance law.
Were supposed to applaud because they did the right thing? Because they finally acted as Democrats? So big deal. What did they do that was so extraordinary? Oh, a Latinas on the Supreme Court? About time!
The White House did not comment for this article.
Gutierrezs allies in Congress say the congressmans outbursts have a purpose.
Theres a difference between being an enemy and a forceful advocate, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said, referring to Gutierrezs criticism of Obama.
Part of his role as a leader on immigration, Clarke said, was to make sure theres a spotlight on the issue.
Hes a pretty smart pol, said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), a leader on immigration in the Irish-American community. Crowley said Gutierrezs credibility stems from his ability to build unlikely coalitions on immigration and because he is well-liked in the Democratic Caucus.
As for Obama, lawmakers are quick to note a relationship between the two men that goes back years. Luis is very strategic and hes very smart, and so is the president, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said.
Gutierrez, Honda said, holds no animosity. The heat is about the issue. Its not about personalities.
And to think the republicans could have had 'em...
This is exactly what conservatives should do. Any candidate you either support our conservative views or we just won’t vote.
Oooops, is that racist?
lOL he is a bull shit artist.
The few legal latinos I have spoken with are totally against amnesty. There IS a path to citizenship, however the illegals don’t want to go through the trouble. They want it NOW.
Sometimes you have to hold your nose and vote because the alternative is just so bad. What you suggest is part of the reason we now have Obama.
“They want it NOW.”
They’re fitting in well already with many Americans:)
Were the illegal immigrants to really “stay home,” poor Luis would have no base of support in America for his traitorous activities.
Yeah, makes sense to me/sarc
Nice to see trouble in my enemy’s tent!
“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC)”
...any word from the Congressional White Caucus (CWC)? What’s truly funny is how these ass clowns can dictate to their “peeps” when to vote and when not to. Which makes the voters bigger ass clowns than their “rep”.
I am sick to death of illegal immigrants demanding ‘rights’ in this country! Go back to where you came from if you do not like it here!
Will all the Latino voters please leave the voting area and go to Walmart. Dear leader said so.
Ain't it, though...? ;)
(Belated PING to Liz, who's also gonna want to see this.)
Does he mean home, home or just home? If he means home, home, illegal immigration problem solved.
In exchange for his vote on Obamacare. The promise of payback is not coming quick enough. I’m sure Guttie was promised immigration before this summer was over.
Bush and the GOP are the reason we have Obama now.
How about you don’t push “immigration reform” and tell them to stay home. And while you’re at it, tell the ones already here to go back home.... and take the kenyan with you.
It should read: “Push Immigration Reform or I’ll Tell Mexican Citizens to Stay Home”.
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