Rep. Gutiérrez on Passing the DREAM Act, Deaths in Puerto Rico & His Aspirations for the Presidency

StoryDecember 12, 2017
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In one of the biggest immigration rallies of the year, thousands rallied last Wednesday on Capitol Hill to demand Congress pass the DREAM Act before the end of 2017. About 100 people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience, including our guest, Illinois Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Last month, he announced he will not seek re-election next year, after 13 terms in the House, in order to focus more on the recovery in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In one of the biggest immigration rallies of the year, thousands gathered on Wednesday on Capitol Hill to demand Congress passed the DREAM Act before the end of 2017. Activists say Democrats could use their leverage to include the measure in the year-end government spending bill, and want them to demand a clean DREAM Act without concessions on funding for the border wall or enhanced border security. Since President Trump announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in September, nearly 1,200 immigrants have lost their legal status. This includes parents of thousands of U.S. citizen children. Eleven-year-old Jasmine spoke Wednesday.

JASMINE: My mommy is a DREAMer. I’m very terrified. I don’t want to lose her. On December 22nd, she will not have her DACA status anymore, and she will be at risk of a deportation. If Congress doesn’t take action now, I won’t have my mommy for the holidays.

AMY GOODMAN: About a hundred people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at Wednesday’s protest, including our next guest, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, member of the Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Last month, he announced he will not seek re-election next year, after 13 terms in the House.

Congressmember Gutiérrez, welcome back to Democracy Now! Tell us why you were arrested and why you’re not returning to Congress, or at least running for your 14th term.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. Look, it’s been 25 years in Congress. I think, at age 64, I got a last chapter. I want to make sure that I live it as fully and as engaged with the American people as possible. And so, I am not going to seek re-election.

But look, Amy, it was pretty easy, once a wonderful public servant, a community organizer named Jesús García, and I talked, and he said he was ready and willing to seek the nomination. And he comes tested and ready, as you know. He is a leader, a lieutenant in the Bernie Sanders revolution to make America a more just and safer place for all of us to live in. And so, I’m just excited about him entering the halls of Congress. So that was first. There was a clear replacement that I know can not only do what I have done, but expand on that. That’s number one.

Number two, my island of Puerto Rico calls to me. And I know that Donald—while Donald Trump is president of the United States, she will not be completely rebuilt and restored. Amy, last week we learned 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fled to Florida alone, not to talk about the tens of thousands of others that are in Hartford, in Providence, in New York, in Philadelphia, Perth Amboy, Chicago and across this country. We need to give them an opportunity to return to Puerto Rico. And we need to rebuild the island and end the suffering that exists there.

Lastly, comprehensive immigration reform is important to me. I want to travel across this country during the first six months. So, yes, I am retiring and not seeking re-election, but I am not retiring from public service and from community activism. That’s why I’m here in Phoenix today, broadcasting—your broadcast from Phoenix today—with immigrant groups from across the country, which I’m delighted to meet with.

So, Amy, there’s a lot to do. I was just listening to your wonderful interview with Cecile Richards. You know, there are women that rarely get spoken about, and those are the women who work in the fields each and every day, undocumented women, who provide you and me and all of us with the food that we eat. I want to raise them, too. I want to raise—I want to make sure that we don’t forget about our Muslim community, whether they’re in Dearborn or in New Jersey. I want to make sure we don’t forget about the Haitians, 58,000 of them, most of them in Florida, who have been ordered returned home to Haiti. That’s an abusive, inhumane action of President Trump. So I want to raise all of those issues, and I want to do that. I believe that the best use of my time, my energy and my leadership is making sure that we defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Luis, I wanted to ask you, in terms of what can be accomplished in Congress before your—before the end of this year, on two issues. One is on immigration, what you think the prospects are for a clean DACA bill to be somehow put into this overall tax bill, and then, also—I’m sorry, the financial omnibus bill, and then, also, the issue of Puerto Rico. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how Congress may actually, in exchange for providing more aid to Puerto Rico, actually tighten the control of the financial control board, add more powers to the financial control board that’s already been established.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On both those issues, a decision has to be made very soon.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, first of all, I’m proud of my Democrats, Juan. You know, ever since Nancy and Chuck sat together with Donald Trump after Labor Day and agreed to a 90-day continuing resolution to keep our government open and financed, I have been saying, “You cannot allow the year to end, you cannot allow this holiday season to come upon us, without a clean DREAM Act.” Look, last week, over 160 Democrats said no to a two-week continuing resolution of the financing of the government. And here is principally why: because there was no DREAM Act. Not a DACA fix. DACA is broken. What we need is a replacement and a DREAM Act, so that our DREAMers are no longer held hostage, they are allowed green cards, they are allowed to enter. You know, most of those DREAMers—a lot of those DREAMers have already gone through three background checks. Almost all of them have gone through two background checks. It’s about time to end the background checks and allow them to enter fully—fully—into our democracy.

So I say no budget, no vote on the budget. Republicans control the House of Representatives. They are 240-strong. They need 218. If they present to us a Republican budget that does not share our views on America, our values about America, and does not include a DREAM Act, then I say Democrats should not vote for that budget. Let them approve. Now, if they need our help, then it must also share our values and our aspirations. Look, the fear that exists in the immigrant community, I have not seen it since I’ve been in Congress, and it’s time to end the abuse against our immigrant community.

On Puerto Rico, here’s what I believe. I voted against the fiscal control board. I always thought it was an imposition of unelected, unaccountable people, most of whom are from the financial services industry, in order to tighten the grip around the working men and women of Puerto Rico to pay off Wall Street. So, I spoke at the hearings against them having any more power.

I want to make sure that we put that down payment on the rebuilding of the island of Puerto Rico. But I—look, it seems—for me, it’s so heartbreaking, Juan. On the one hand, hundreds of Puerto Ricans arrive in my city of Chicago, thousands arrive here every day in the United States, fleeing the island of Puerto Rico. This is the richest, most powerful nation in the Earth. How can it be, four months into this, there is still half the population without electricity and hundreds of thousands without water? That is unconscionable that that is happening.

On the other hand, 122 DREAMers lose their work permit every day. Tens of thousands of them are already a part of—are already undocumented because of the actions of Donald Trump. So I say, A, let’s make sure we pass the DREAM Act. Let’s stand firm as Democrats. If they need our help, we must tell them we also need help for our DREAMer community.

AMY GOODMAN: You said you’re pushing for this by the end of this year, by 2017?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see any prospects that that’s possible? And are you weighing running for higher office, like president of the United States?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Here’s what I’m going to do, Amy. Number one, yes, look, by December 22nd, we need to pass another spending bill. We need a government authorization bill to keep government funded. So, I say, let’s sit back, and let’s negotiate very firmly with the Republicans. Amy, if you recall, this funding bill that we’re operating under, the one that we operated under until last week, 90 Republicans voted against continuing giving the—keeping the government open, raising the debt ceiling. Even for Harvey relief, 90 Republicans voted against that in September. If they—yes, they are a majority of 240, but they are a dysfunctional majority. Ninety of them don’t clearly believe that government has any principal role in our life. And many of them came to Washington, D.C., to destroy the government and to stop it from operating. So I say, if you do not have the 218 votes and need our help, this is our time for standing tall and standing for justice and standing for our immigrant community. No more just talking by the Democrats about how much they love immigrants. It’s time to stand up for immigrants through your actions.

And here’s what I’m going to do. I am here at an immigrant conference here in Phoenix today. I’ll be receiving an award and addressing them at noon. What I want to do is I want to travel to Georgia and to Alabama and, yes, to Florida, and meet with farmworkers and listen to their stories and what it is we should be doing as a Democratic Party. I want to also listen to Muslims and, across this country, listen to them and hear their stories. I want to raise the issue of Haitians. So what I want to do is take those groups that are under attack by this president, visit with them, talk to them. And if it is viable to run for president of the United States—and that is the best way I can raise their issues and make sure that the Democratic Party—

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: —is engaged in those communities, I will do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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