Dem to Obama: Push Immigration, or Lose Latino Voters at Polls

By Russell Berman & Bob Cusack – The Hill

A congressman from the president’s home state is threatening 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 Obama’s biggest Democratic critic in Congress. And he’s not fond of Obama’s top advisers at the White House, either.  

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) member has strongly criticized the administration’s 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 senator’s 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.

“We’re 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 women’s suffrage. “There’ll 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 we’re 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 Obama’s statement reiterating his support for comprehensive immigration reform “wasn’t the most enthusiastic press release.”

“It’s incremental,” he said. “Before you run, you walk.”

Among his grievances with Obama is the president’s 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 administration’s 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t lambaste the administration because he likes to.

“It’s very hard. I don’t want you to think that it’s easy,” he said. “I don’t want to pile on. It’s just he’s 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 can’t give him that, because there’s 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 don’t 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. We’re 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 nation’s 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 Obama’s closest advisers. Asserting that he is not culpable for what the administration does or does not do, Gutierrez said, “I’m not at the White House. Rahm [Emanuel] is there. [David] Axelrod’s there. And I don’t know that they’re 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 children’s healthcare insurance law.

“We’re 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 Latina’s on the Supreme Court? About time!”

The White House did not comment for this article.

Gutierrez’s allies in Congress say the congressman’s outbursts have a purpose.

“There’s a difference between being an enemy and a forceful advocate,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said, referring to Gutierrez’s criticism of Obama.

Part of his role as a leader on immigration, Clarke said, was to make sure there’s a spotlight on the issue.

“He’s a pretty smart pol,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), a leader on immigration in the Irish-American community. Crowley said Gutierrez’s 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 he’s 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. It’s not about personalities.”

A video of The Hill’s interview with Gutierrez can be viewed here.


  1. Okay, you all have beaten me down.

    I *do* understand Sonny’s psychology lesson.

    David, I *do* understand that we will all sink together. Nonetheless, I consider those who are sinking the ship to be my enemies.

  2. Alicia, the point was, you can call yourself whatever you want, but if the country fails, we all fail.

  3. They *are* DANGEROUS. I consider them my personal enemies, given the destruction they are wreaking upon our country. I don’t go along with the, “It doesn’t matter if you’re democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative.” It DOES MATTER!

    At one time, I was a moderate conservative. The liberals/socialists are making me more conservative by the day.

    Thanks, Sonny. You said it much better. *L*

  4. All liberals are shallow thinkers. They never think a problem through to its logical conclusion. They are “feel good” and “sounds good” people. That’s as far as their thinking goes. They, also, fail to realize that what affects one group in this country affects us all. It matters not whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent or whatever you want to call yourself. We are all in this boat together and if it sinks, we all drown. Liberals always have been and always will be DANGEROUS people because of their LACK of thinking.

  5. Your know it has always amazed me how some people with good college educations lack common sense, I have seen a lot of it over the years. It seems that we put a majority of these people in government, they have book learning but no common sense at all. Maybe we should pass a law requiring our elected officials to take some sort of test before they qualify for government office. Seriously, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

  6. alicia, I understand and know you said liberals have no sense. You are right! Where does sense come from……your mind which I learned in Psychology comes from your brain….thus my sentiments conerning the liberal’s brains! :)

  7. I said they “have no sense.”

    I’m on your side, Sonny. Stop speed-reading! *L*

    Btw, we need people on the national scene who are articulate and speak with passion. There are a few, but not many. The dems run rings around us in the spin department. And there are lots of people who buy into it.

    F/instance, instead of constantly harping on how our grandchildren will be paying the bill (which is true,) why don’t they say, “China owns us, can call in our debt at will, can increase interest on the debt at will, and can DICTATE U. S. POLICY?!” The “grandchildren” thing is too far off for dummies. The “China” thing is right now.

  8. Really? The way those liberals have been taking this country I think they have S__T for brains! And you know where S__T belongs?

  9. Righto. If amnesty is shoved down our throats, we are indeed doomed.

    And o/c the dems are going to shovel as many aliens into this country as possible…for VOTES.

    Beats me why they want to turn us into another Mexico. They don’t think the money will ever run out. (It has.) They don’t understand that innovation & self-sufficiency have made the gravytrain possible.

    I’m equally befuddled by those who are hellbent to socialize us when socialism has never worked.

    I think many flaming liberals are ‘educated’, but have no sense, whatsoever.

  10. Illegals in Texas are costing us taxpayers $250 million per year in free benefits. Add that to another $90 million in state law enforcement cost without one dime or support from the feds. 85% of the money they earn here is sent back to Mexico. The drug trade is a multi billion dollar business here. There is a new business that’s earning them more and more—smuggling pregnant women in their 8th or 9th month into Texas so they can deliver their babies in the U.S. – Automatic citizenship- Here comes 20 more family members to enjoy our free tax money. Sorry Obama—times are changing. We have children to feed—house payments to make-and are sick and tired of your give away programs.

  11. We spend $90 billion dollars per year of taxpayers money on illegal immigrants, health care, education, free school lunches, incarceration, awaiting trial in county jails, welfare, WIC program, and printing all government documents in English and Spanish. Their anchor babies become American citizens making them eligible for even more government programs. They contribute to the $120 billion dollars per year health care fraud. Illegal immigrants want to get paid in cash so there is no paper trail and the bulk of their money goes back to their homeland. They are holding 12 million jobs that American citizens need. They contribute nothing to our tax base. These illegal aliens have been spongeing off the American taxpayers for years. The Federal government not only didn’t do their sworn duty to protect our borders they encouraged them to come here. I for one am proud ot he people of Arizona for having the guts to enforce the law that the Federal government failed to do.

  12. Obama and the Dems are counting on the votes of minorities to keep them in office look for Obama to ramp up the rhetoric to keep them happy and collect the votes
    you see the left knows that legal americans are fed up with the whole Obama farse

  13. I don’t see this anywhere. Do you know that Congress has bit by bit increased the legal immigrant quota from 250,000 per year to One Million per year. Illegal immigrants add about 700,000 each year. Our country cannot sustain such growth. We should tell Mr Gore it is bad for the environment – or Obama’s enviro czars

  14. Why is it that the Democrat leaders are so eager to push amnesty through? It sounds shady to me that they are so bent on protecting those that are breaking our laws.

  15. Do Hispanics REALLY want the USA to be like Mexico…poor, broke, no jobs, no future? Whoops, we are almost there!

  16. This site is driving me crazy! It has been days since I’ve been able to read the articles.

    Okay, they want illegal aliens to be “humanized.” By definition, that says they’re “human” criminals. (What other kind is there?)

    Hooray for Arizona!

    I’m just fit to be tied.

    Oh…….and Graham is a prime example of why I refuse to support the RNC & RNCC.

  17. I like the name Ms. Maulkin gave the so-called Maverick……….McLame! The name suits him! He and Graham-0-Rat are RHINOS that need to GO! Everybody needs to call the Senators and Representatives and thell to vote NO on the Immigration Reform (Amensty) bill. If that bill passes we are doomed. We have to pray that we will still have enough people on our side to vote all these slime balls out! God help us!

  18. AS I said 3 months ago, this is how the DEMON RATS think they can control the vote.
    IF they are successful in ramming this through and legalize illegal immigrants then they can legitimately WORRY about VIOLENCE.
    Remember when you set precedence in rewarding those that BREAK OWN LAWS you encourage MORE people to BREAK the LAW.
    That is WHAT this is REALLY all about.

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