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Rep. Luis Gutiérrez: House GOP Obstruction Won’t Stop Momentum of Immigration Reform

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The push to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year faced a major setback Wednesday after House Republicans gathered behind closed doors to discuss whether they would support a bill passed just last month in the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner emerged from the meeting to reject what he called the Senate’s “flawed legislation.” We’re joined by Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and member of the bipartisan House panel working on a broad immigration reform bill. In an upcoming tour, Rep. Gutiérrez will visit Republican congressional districts to build bipartisan support for immigration reform. “The movement is broad, the movement is very deep, and it will not be denied,” Rep. Gutierrez says. “You can delay this, but you cannot stop it. It is inevitable. In the end, all Boehner has to do is give us a vote.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The push to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year faced a major setback Wednesday after House Republicans gathered behind closed doors to discuss whether they would support a bill passed just last month in the Senate. During a two-hour session, Speaker John Boehner urged his fellow Republicans to take action in a way that reflected the party’s principles. Afterwards, he joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor and others in issuing a statement, saying, quote, “rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system.”

As House Republicans met to discuss immigration reform, a flash mob of immigrants and their allies took over the House Visitor Center and broke out into the national anthem as they unfurled an American flag.

IMMIGRANT FLASH MOB: [singing] …by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of DREAMers and their parents participated in an “aspirational citizenship ceremony” at a park near the Capitol. One of the speakers at the event was Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. He joins us now from the Cannon Rotunda at the Capitol. Congressmember Gutiérrez is the chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, member of the bipartisan House Gang of Seven that’s been working on a broad immigration reform bill. He has an upcoming tour planned in which he’ll visit Republican congressional districts to build bipartisan support for immigration reform.

Are reports of the immigration bill being dead exaggerated, Congressmember Gutiérrez?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, you know, in Washington, D.C., it’s kind of the favorite of journalists around here. They love—I mean, they—I guess they should use the funeral business or be morticians, because they love to kill everything. Of course, this movement is far from dead. It’s alive. It’s well. Look, it’s a very broad, expansive, deep movement. I mean, when you get The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial boards almost singing synonymously the praises of comprehensive immigration, when you have the AFL-CIO sitting down with the Chamber of Commerce and reaching an agreement, when you have the United Farm Workers and the growers across this country reaching an agreement, when you have evangelicals and very progressive on the religious front together, working together, look, it’s very broad, it’s very deep, and we’re going to be successful.

So, here’s what I think. I think the Republican Party is just going to have to make a decision. I think that’s really the quandary they find themselves in, and I think that’s really a reflection of yesterday’s meeting. There are those who want to take the party forward. Paul Ryan, Congressman Paul Ryan, says we should not have a two-tier society where we have a permanent underclass. He wants to end that permanent underclass. He wants to bring them out of the shadows into American citizenship. And then you have others who simply do not like immigrants. Look, you could make—you could put as many people as you want on the border. That border could be sealed and impenetrable. They still would not vote for comprehensive immigration reform or any reform. They just don’t want—to them, one immigrant is one immigrant too many, and they’re never going to come around. So that’s the quandary of the Republican Party. I think there are good, solid voices in the Republican Party that are going to, in the end, prevail on this issue.

Lastly, there’s something very unique about this moment. And that is, I’ve been here 20 years. There are more than 218 votes. That is, there is a majority in the House of Representatives for comprehensive immigration reform. That’s never been there before. There are dozens of Republicans that are ready to join a couple of hundred of Democrats to get this done. All Speaker Boehner has to do is actually allow democracy to flourish in the House of Representatives and allow us to vote.

Lastly, let’s not buy into this the Senate bill, the Senate bill, the Senate bill. No one—the only one saying that we should adopt the Senate bill is Schumer, the senator from New York. Apart from Schumer, I think everybody else understands that you need to be respectful of a legislative process in the House of Representatives. So stop using that as an excuse. We are working on a bipartisan basis. We’ll work with Paul Ryan. We’ll work with Congressman Carter. We’ll work with Congressman Johnson. We’ll work with Congressman Diaz-Balart. We will work with them and others to formulate a bipartisan proposal—distinct, different, but conferencable with the Senate version.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman Gutiérrez, the proposals in the House, though, none of the separate portions of the—of legislation that they presented include legislation that would provide a path to citizenship. And I think Raúl Labrador, the congressman, Republican congressman, last night on the NewsHour said that he doesn’t believe your estimate that there is a majority support for a pathway to citizenship exists in the House. Could you respond to both those issues?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. Number one, let me just say this: Then let’s have a vote. Then, if your position is—let’s have a vote. The only way you’re really going to answer this question is to allow a vote. Why is it—they say that they want a majority of the majority to be for something. In other words, 125 out of 435 members dictate the future of policy in the House of Representatives? I mean, that’s a minority. That’s 30 percent. Now 30 percent dictates the future of legislation in the House of Representatives?

I think, look, the American public spoke clearly and unequivocally on November the 4th. The Republican Party has a decision to make. There are many—former President Bush, his brother Jeb Bush, Karl Rove—you name them, they are ready and working and advancing the cause of comprehensive immigration reform. For whatever reason—I believe many of them believe that there should be a solution to our broken immigration system. Others simply want to take it off the table. Doesn’t matter what the motivation is. The fact is, they’re looking for a solution.

And the Republican Party—look, I want to be very, very clear. There is a demographic tsunami coming towards the Republican Party, and it’s reflected in George Bush in 2004, got over 40 percent of the Latino vote. The last election, the Republican nominee Romney barely got over 20 percent of the vote. And more Latinos are voting. Not only is the percentage going down, but the number of Latinos actually participating in the electoral system is increasing. They will no—look, do they want to be a party of provinces and counties and areas of the United States, or do they want to be a national party? That’s the decision they’re going to have to make as they move forward on this issue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you are supposedly, I understand, going on another one of your national tours on immigration reform, and you’re going into some of these Republican House districts in the coming months?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yeah, I’m going to leave tomorrow, and we’ll be going out, and it’s cherry-picking season. I mean, I want to be with the workers. And I want to be with the actual producers, right? So, we want to combine the workers with the actual farmers that are there and the growers to show America this is about economic security and vitality. And I want to show the nation, at least attempt to show the nation—you know something? That’s hard, backbreaking work. Somebody’s got to work in those fields every day. In Washington, we’ll go out and meet with the growers in Washington state, and we’ll see—and we’ll be with people who pick apples. And then, next weekend—then I want to go to the NAACP. Let me tell you something. The Black Caucus and the black community in the United States has been stellar. It’s been such a foundation for our immigration system. I want to go out there and continue to coordinate.

Look, the movement is broad, the movement is very deep, and it will not be denied. You can delay this. You can delay it. I agree you can delay. But you can’t stop it. It is inevitable. Fifty thousands Latinos turn 18 every year. And I know the question of some of your viewers: How many of them are citizens? I’m only talking about the ones that are citizens. Look, this is growing. We’re going to achieve it. And the Republican Party, in the end—all Boehner has to do is give us a vote. If he gives us a vote, there will be more than 218 votes. Of that, I am sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, spoke earlier this week about his party’s reasons for opposing immigration reform passed by the Senate. He began by referencing the last immigration reform bill that passed in 1986 and was signed into law by President Reagan.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE: First of all, in 1986 they gave an easy pathway to citizenship to nearly three million people with the promise of greater enforcement—border enforcement, employer sanctions, other new things—to prevent a repeat of illegal immigration. Well, obviously, that was never put into effect, not just by this president, but by all the interceding presidents, as well. So, this Senate bill now gives a legal status. It’s a longer pathway to citizenship, but it gives a legal status almost immediately to maybe 11 million or more people and then says, “We’ll fix the border, we’ll put in E-Verify, we’ll put in an entry-exit visa system, we’ll do the other interior enforcement things that we’ve all said we need to have.” They don’t do it until after they’ve given them legal status, and most people think that the legal status is what most people who are not lawfully present in the United States want anyway. So, a repeat of 1986.

I also think the special pathway to citizenship in the Senate bill, giving people who have entered the country illegally something that people who have come legally for decades and followed the rules and gone through and been the beneficiary of particular types of petitions, where they get the status automatically just by virtue of having been here illegally and then legally for a period of time, is a bad way, a bad precedent, as well. And then, finally, there’s not any kind of significant interior enforcement. About 35 to 40 percent of the people who are here illegally entered the country legally on visitors’ visas, business visas, student visas, visa waivers, and simply overstayed. So, the border itself, securing that, is not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Republican Congressmember Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Republican Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal headlined “It’s the House Bill or Nothing on Immigration.” He wrote, quote, “The House of Representatives will reject any proposal with the Senate bill’s irreparably flawed structure, which is best described as: legalization first, enforcement later … maybe. … [T]he best solution is to abandon the Senate bill’s flawed framework and proceed with an enforcement-first approach that assures Americans that the border is secure and immigration laws are being enforced.”

And then you’ve got that tweet that was just put out there, a Twitter message posted last night by Congressmember Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who wrote—and he refers to Republicans as Rs—”Most House Rs agree w/ most Senate Rs and Americans. Trusting Obama w/ border security is like trusting Bill Clinton w/ your daughter.”

So where is this headed, Congressmember Gutiérrez? Yet you have George W. Bush supporting your position.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. Look, I think Chairman Goodlatte is just wrong. They talk about the 1986 legislation. And here’s what happened in 1986. It was an amnesty. Basically, three million people got green cards and five years later could apply for American citizenship. In that sense, he’s correct. But this thing about border enforcement and that they were going to—look, the only thing it has was employer sanctions. That is, you were going to sanction employers. And let me tell you what happened as soon as the bill was passed. Because there was no pathway for new workers to come and fill the economic vacuums that exist in our economy and exist in certain localities in the United States, because there was no way for new workers and new immigrants to come to America to fill that vacuum, they came undocumented to the United States in order to fill that stuff. But, guess who were the first people to call? It was Republican members of Congress calling and saying, “I don’t have enough people to pick apples. I don’t have enough people to pick grapes. I don’t have enough people to work and toil in my factory. I don’t have enough people in the meatpacking plants in my district. I need you to set aside.” They were the ones calling on the Department of Labor.

What we are doing, how can you say that this is not monumentally different, when Democrats, who have never been for enforcement only, allow 700 miles of fences, as they have in the Senate proposal, 20,000 more Border Patrol agents? Look, you can say that there’s no enforcement in there. The fact is that they are militarizing the border between the United States and Mexico in order to reach an agreement to allow 11 million people to live in the United States and have some semblance of justice and fairness, number one. And Mr. Goodlatte should understand that. And our proposals have always been about enforcement.

What they are saying—look, they are using positions that have been completely discredited and discarded. November 6—it’s almost as though in the House of Representatives nothing happened November 6th, there wasn’t an electoral demand for comprehensive immigration reform. Let me just reiterate. Mr. Goodlatte is an outlier, and so are the Republicans in the House of Representatives. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce, the growers and the union representing the farm workers, the evangelicals and Presbyterians, Catholics and Mormons, all together, the movement has brought. Everybody is compromising. Everybody is sitting at a table and saying, “What do we have to do to work together?” The only ones that—in the Senate, compromise in the Senate: 14 Republicans, 54 Democrats get together, 68 of them. Everywhere there is compromise, and there are people working together to solve the problem, except the House of Representatives. And in the end, they have to simply allow us a vote. Leave the rhetoric aside, allow us a vote, and we can fix our broken immigration system.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressman Gutiérrez, just a few seconds we have left. You’ve been an ally now on this issue with Paul Ryan, and you’re close to him. Do you think that Paul Ryan would lead the—will lead the charge in the House to be able to get some kind of a pathway to citizenship in the legislation that the House considers?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Number one, he believes in it. He has stated it. And I’m very, very—I’m very, very proud of him that in spite of this very ugly rhetoric from some sectors of his party, he has stood up and consistently said we need a pathway to citizenship. And like Paul Ryan, there are dozens of other Democrats—I mean, I’m sorry, dozens of other Republicans in the House of Representatives that are ready to vote. Simply allow us a vote. Why are you afraid? If you don’t believe that there are sufficient numbers of Democrats and Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform, then maybe you’re right. No, you’re saying it’s your way or no way. Everyone else is compromising. Everyone else is compromising. The only place where people say, “It’s the status quo, and I don’t want to fix this,” is in the House of Representatives, and it’s in the Republican caucus of the House of Representatives. My view is, allow democracy to flourish, allow a vote. Two hundred and eighteen people will vote—more. More than—Juan, more than 218 will vote for comprehensive immigration reform. And they know we have the votes.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Congressmember Gutiérrez, for joining us, Democratic congressmember from Illinois, chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and member of the bipartisan House Gang of Seven that’s been working on this broad immigration reform bill. He is planning this tour, starting tomorrow, visiting Republican congressional districts to drum up support for immigration reform. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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