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As 145 Arrested in White House Protest, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez Urges Obama to Halt Mass Deportations

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Immigrants and their allies held protests in more than a dozen cities Thursday to mark what they called the National Day to Fight for Families. Calling on President Obama to take executive action and stem his record level of deportations, about 145 people were arrested in front of the White House after laying red carnations over photos of deported loved ones. The protest came as President Obama called on Congress yet again to help address immigration reform, but suggested he would take executive action if it is the only way to address the situation. We speak to Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois), chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Immigrants and their allies held protests in more than a dozen cities Thursday to mark what they called the National Day to Fight for Families. They want President Obama to take executive action to stem his record level of deportations. About 145 people were arrested in front of the White House after they laid red carnations over photos of deported loved ones. Among those who marched in support were Jonathan Perez and Jesus Hernandez.

JESUS HERNANDEZ: [translated] I want Obama to stop deportations and come up with a good plan for everybody. For everybody, not just for a few over here and a few over there. No, take the reins and come up with a plan. Yes or no. He’s the president, and if not, he should leave.

JONATHAN PEREZ: I’m an immigrant, and I achieved the DACA, so I can manage to work legally now, but I’m the only one in my family, and it saddens me to know that I went over half of what my mom makes in two weeks. So, I want her to have the opportunity to make as much money as I do, and no matter what kind of work she’s doing. So, you know, I feel like I need to be out here in support of everyone, because I want everyone to have equal rights.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Also on Thursday, President Obama called on Congress yet again to help address immigration reform. But he suggested that he would take executive action if it is the only way to address the situation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And my preference continues to be that Congress act. I don’t think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections, they may act. The good news is we’ve started to make some progress. I mean, what we’ve seen so far is that throughout the summer the number of apprehensions have been decreasing. Maybe that’s counterintuitive, but that’s a good thing, because that means that fewer folks are coming across.

AMY GOODMAN: Executive steps President Obama could take include deferring deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, as well as providing new green cards for high-tech workers and for relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. He’s in Chicago, where this week he met with immigration advocates to prepare for a possible announcement from the White House. Congressmember Gutiérrez chairs the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Congressman, welcome back to Democracy Now! What do you think has to happen right now? A hundred forty-five people, at least, were arrested yesterday in Washington.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, look, yesterday was a national day of action, and they’re responding because each and every day that we wait, another thousand people are deported. Every week, dozens of Americans’ children are left orphaned, because they lose a mom or a dad. I mean, our broken immigration system has an impact on the immigrant community each and every day. And that’s why I’m heartened to hear that the president said—look, for three months—April, May, June—I went down to House floor and gave speech after speech, alerting the Republican majority that if we did not act by the 4th of July, the president would. And indeed, the president said, the first week of—the last week of June, that he was going to act. Why? Because Speaker Boehner called him up and said, “We’re not going to do anything.” That’s after the Republican majority said that they had a set of principles, said that they were ready to work, said that they were ready to move forward.

I and many others worked with them and said, “We understand you’re the majority. Tell us the outline of the proposal, but let’s get something done.” They said they wanted to do it in parts. You know, they didn’t want to do one bill at one time. We said, “OK, let’s begin on the parts.” They said, “Everybody can’t be a citizen right away.” We said, “OK, let’s see who does become a citizen and what are the steps for the others.” They said, “Well, we can’t have the Senate bill as a model.” We said, “Well, let’s create our own model, and let’s come up with one better.” But each and every time the Republicans came up with a demand that was acquiesced to, in the end they just simply walked away.

So, look, the president yesterday and I prefer a legislative solution, because what the president can do, Amy, is never going to be as great and as fulfilling and as permanent as what can be accomplished legislatively. So I want a legislative solution, but the Republicans have said they’re not going to give us one. So, then the president needs to act and use his executive authority to act.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Luis Gutiérrez, what do you make of the threats by some Republican leaders in the House and the Senate that if the president does act—and they believe he would be acting unconstitutionally—that they’re prepared to essentially shut down the government by holding up approval of the budget that Congress must pass before the beginning of October?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, look, look, Juan, first of all, I believe the president is going to act in the next 30 days. That’s my hope. What would stop him from acting? Well, probably because there are some Democrats that are in some contested senatorial races prior, in Arkansas and others, that don’t want him to act until after the election. But I hope Democrats say, “You know, we have principles, we have values, and we’ll put those principles and good public policy ahead of politics,” because one of the problems Democrats have had in the past is we’re for the immigrants, but we don’t want to expend too much political capital in defending them or lose too many legislative seats, and certainly not our majority. So, I would hope he would put good public policy ahead of politics. Having said that, look, the Republicans—let’s say Obama does it, Juan, and he says it in—it would take three to four months, from the moment he makes—right?—the decision to the time that it can be implemented, because you’ve got regulations to put in place, paperwork, you’ve got administration to put in place, for millions of people to be able to apply to the American government so they’d be free from deportation and given a work permit for a couple of years.

Now, having said that, I think what we need to understand then is the Republicans can always come back to the table, which is one of the things that the president said yesterday. He said, you know, hope is eternal—springs eternal; maybe they’ll come back in the lame-duck session, and we can talk again. So they can always come back. But Republicans have to stop saying, “We won’t do anything.” There is a crisis in the immigrant community. It is a damaging, hurtful, and many times leads to deaths in our community. And so, you know what? If you don’t want to act, and there’s a crisis, we have a responsibility to use the powers that we do have at the legislative branch to help people. What can Obama do? Look, he can’t do what the Senate bill would do, but what he can do is say, “I want to prioritize deportations in a way that is meaningful to our national security and that respects the bonds of families in the immigrant community that have been devastated because of our broken immigration system.”

Let’s say, Juan, he said, “You know what? Anybody that’s been in the United States”—and I’m not proposing it, but let’s just say he said this—”everybody who has been in the United States for 10 years or more, working, has roots in the community, maybe they’re married, has American citizen children, and has been married, and, you know, is ready to come forward and sign up and acknowledge who they are with the federal government, go through a rigorous background check to make sure they have no criminal background whatsoever, and they’ve been here 10 years.” Do you know how many people that would be? Over six million people. That’s what I think the American public is going to come to understand, is that there are millions of people that have been here in the United States for over a decade and have no relief, and the Republicans will not come to the table to sensibly bring a solution. Marco Rubio, he voted for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. So it’s like the president is doing what he voted for, just not in the expansive manner that he did.

The other thing that I think that has to be clear, look, we also have to understand that maybe the president can do—I believe the president can do millions. I think he can do five to six million. And I think he can give—he can articulate a very clear legal framework for doing it. And, you know, if the Republicans, each and every time the president wants to take an action, they’re going to shut down the government, in the end they’re going to be shut out of government, if that is the only position that they have. If the president does something unconstitutional or illegal, they should use the courts. They shouldn’t make and hold hostage the rest of the people of the United States for an issue that the president—that they refuse to deal with, which they say they believe in, because I’ve talked to them, and Speaker Boehner said he wanted to do immigration reform. So they say they want to do it, but then they don’t do it, and then they say, if we do it, then they’ll shut down the government. It’s nonsense.

Look, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Jews, religious communities, broad-based opinion makers in America, all agree we need to fix our broken immigration system. And I like what Amy brought out earlier in the program, and that is that the fix is for the dishwasher and the woman that makes the bed in Chicago, but it’s also for the high-tech engineer making sure he can have their spouse here in America. It’s also for our agricultural industry. Look, farmers out there, American farmers, they need a reliable workforce and labor force that they can rely on season in and season out. And you can’t have one until you fix our broken immigration system. Seventy percent of all agricultural workers—those are the people that pick our fruit, pick our vegetables, sweat and toil, do back-breaking work in the fields across America—are undocumented. Shouldn’t they be given an opportunity? So I think if the president comes forward and says—because he’s got to pick a date, right? He can’t just say everybody who’s in the United States. I hope he picks the date of the Senate, right, so he goes back three years. With DACA, he said that the youth, the immigrant youth, had to be here by 2007, and this was 2012. He said he went back five years. He said only immigrant youth that have been here five years or longer. He’s going to have to pick a date. I don’t know what date he picks. Whatever. But even if he goes to 10 years, Juan, it’s 6.3 million people. That’s a lot of people. So, if the Republicans want to not do anything, they have to remember that Obama’s actions are going to be actions that are going to be well received throughout most of America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s your best guess on when he’s going to make this announcement?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, here’s what he said. He said that he would make it by the end of the summer. And my hope is, notwithstanding what some Democrats have wanted him to do, and that’s to wait after the November election, I hope he keeps his word and does it by the end of the summer.

The protests that you showed earlier today were national protests. You focused on the one in Washington, D.C., but there were people in dozens of cities across America raising their voices, asking and demanding that the president take action.

Let me just say this, to Democrats specifically, and that is, we have to be a party that has values and that has principles when it comes to our immigrant community. Number one, that’s important for our party. Number two, if you just want to look at the political benefit, think one moment. It’s June 2012. President Barack Obama has a serious problem with the immigrant community. The complaints are all about his deportation. He signs DACA, right? It was executive authority that he has through Homeland Security and says, “I’m not going to deport any more youth.” What happens immediately after that? The country embraced it, Juan. It embraced it to the point that at the convention, the Democratic convention, in prime time, you heard one undocumented youth after another speaking from the floor of the convention to the nation. And in November, the Democrats, in the presidential election in November of 2012, got two million more Latino votes than they did in 2008 and got an increased percentage number. So, it’s good public policy, and it certainly has been demonstrated in the past that it’s good politics.

I said—when I spoke to the president, I said, “Mr. President, when you do this and you show that government can be a tool for justice and for fairness, you do this for the immigrant community, let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to broaden the ranks of those who care about justice and broaden the ranks of those who care about raising the minimum wage, those who care about better labor standards, those who care about women’s reproductive rights, those who care about our LGBT community. Let’s grow the progressive movement. Let’s take the actions that we need, that we can demonstrate that government can be a tool for good, for justice and for fairness. And if the Republicans want to respond, let them respond. Let them respond. Then what they’re going to find is that in America people want men and women of action and that take those actions boldly and swiftly.”

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