Democratic congressmember of Illinois, member of the Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In Chicago, federal police handcuffed Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez along with activists and lawyers Monday, after they held a sit-in protest at a federal immigration office. Gutiérrez says the group refused to leave the Chicago office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, after the agency’s regional director refused to answer his questions about the Trump administration’s plans for immigration sweeps and mass deportation. For more, we speak with Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Chicago, federal police handcuffed Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez along with activists and lawyers Monday after they held a sit-in protest at a federal immigration office. Gutiérrez says the group refused to leave the Chicago office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, after the agency’s regional director refused to answer his questions about the Trump administration’s plans for immigration sweeps and mass deportation. Gutiérrez spoke out on Monday after he was handcuffed.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: We’ve accomplished our goal today. We stood up to the Department of Homeland Security and to Donald Trump’s hatred, bigotry today against refugees, against Muslims, against our immigrant community. And we stood up and said, "Your policies are morally bankrupt."
AMY GOODMAN: Monday’s meeting was Gutiérrez’s first with ICE officials since President Trump’s inauguration. Last month, Congressman Gutiérrez and fellow Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Norma Torres of California said Republican lawmakers had them thrown out of a meeting with a top ICE official.
For more, we are staying with Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, who’s now back in Washington, D.C. He’s a member of the House Judiciary Committee and is co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Congressman Gutiérrez, describe what happened on Monday.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, we had a meeting with ICE officials, as you reported. There were many community organizations, legal defense funds there. A group of us insisted that we receive answers to specific questions.
Much has been reported on the case of Francisca Lino. She’s a Mexican national. For 12 years, she has reported dutifully to ICE and to Homeland Security, and each year they said, "Come back next year." She is a mother of four American citizens, and an American citizen husband. And they have been showing discretion in terms of their enforcement action towards her—until this last meeting. And they won’t reverse their decision. We asked them. We demanded they reverse that decision. They keep saying to us, in a very—in this contradiction of terms, they keep saying to the American public, "We’re going after the criminals. We’re going after the bad people, the people that are out there to do harm." Well, they’re not. Francisca Lino, she’s a mom. She’s a—and she’s reported for 12 consecutive years. What changed? The only thing that changed was that Donald Trump got sworn in as president of the United States, and you have—you have Bannon and Miller, and you have the new attorney general of the United States, Sessions, who have all been talking. They didn’t start—they didn’t all come together during this administration. They have been cooperating with one another for many years, waiting to institute this kind of xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies.
Second—and I think this is very, very crucial—last Friday, through a series of tweets—imagine—the Department of Homeland Security, through a series of tweets, said, A, "Oh, those DREAMers, those that have got DACA, we’ve picked up 1,500 of them. They’re criminals and gang bangers." And then they went on to say in another tweet, "Oh, we’re going to go after them if they violate the law. DACA doesn’t give them protection against being criminals." Again, 750,000 wonderful young people—they’re doctors, they’re lawyers, they’re nurses, they’re school teachers in the Chicago public school system, they’re workers, they’re students—criminalizing them once again and saying they no longer have the protection against deportation. I thought it was important that we ask a fundamental question: Are you going after DACA recipients? Because we know you’ve done it in Washington state, we know you’ve done it in Mississippi, and we have other cases in which you have done it.
So, look, somebody’s got to stand up. If I tell people it’s right to give your government information—to give your information over to the government, go through a background check, that you’re going to be right with the law, and you are right with the law, and you have done absolutely nothing wrong, other than another president got elected, you’ve got to stand up for those people that have stood up for themselves. That’s what we were doing that day. And we said to them, "Until we have answers, we will not leave." Look, it shows you what happens with a system which is run by bullies. And what did they do? They handcuffed us. And as soon as they handcuffed us and they saw that we weren’t—didn’t have any fear, they released us. I’ve never seen such a situation before.
But the most important thing is, we raised the issue to the American public. And we’re going to continue to do that. And I’m really excited about the fact that, come this May 1st, across this country, we’re going to fill dozens of cities in a International Day of Workers in which immigrants are going to be the primary showcase of American workers.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask you about Army veteran Miguel Perez Jr., a Mexican-born legal permanent resident of the U.S., an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He arrived in the U.S. at the age of eight and now faces deportation.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is his father, Miguel Perez Sr., speaking through a translator to the Chicago Tribune.
MIGUEL PEREZ SR.: [translated] He was in special forces in the Army. And they sent him to Afghanistan. So, he was there from 2001 to 2003 in the first one. He came really proud, very happy. And I was very proud of him, as well, because he defended the Constitution, he defended the system, defended this land, defended the flag. And like my son says, "I was there. I was confronting there. I was in front of the battle. I should—I deserve an opportunity. I don’t know why I have to be deported."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that was Miguel Perez Sr., the father of Miguel Perez. Now, he is a legal permanent resident of the U.S.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Yes, yes.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: How is it possible to deport him?
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, because the Trump administration can and will. And he is under an order of deportation. He has recently lost his case. And I think—I’m so happy you’re highlighting. We have—he’s not the only veteran. There are literally hundreds of veterans that have served in the armed forces of the United States and, like Mr. Perez, are decorated veterans. Mr. Perez wasn’t—has never been a U.S. citizen. He’s a legal permanent resident, a green card holder. His mom is a citizen. His dad is a citizen. All of his family are citizens, with his exception. Under the Bush administration, he was supposed to be facilitated the process of American citizenship when he joined the armed forces. That did not happen. But he went on to serve not one tour of duty, but two. And I find it just so reprehensible that an administration led by a president of the United States that on multiple occasions refused to bear arms for this nation when he was called upon, said he had a bone spur—a bone spur that hasn’t stopped him from playing on every golf course in every continent of the world—would deport someone who did take up arms and wasn’t even a citizen of the United States—not one tour, but two tours.
So, look, we’re going to continue to fight for Mr. Perez. We are asking senators to look at this case and to file a private bill. And what is that? A private bill is when a senator says, "Here is my bill. Because of these extraordinary circumstances, I want to file this bill to make this individual a citizen of the United States, because that seems to be the one road." And you’re going to be hearing, Amy, more and more about them. They are along the border, by the hundreds, destitute.
Now, I want the American public to know one thing: Mr. Perez gets to come back after he’s deported. You know when he gets to come back? When he’s dead. He gets to come back in a coffin and buried in a military cemetery for his service to this country. But while he’s alive, he cannot live here.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Gutiérrez, could you explain what the argument is that the Trump administration is using to justify his deportation?
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, that he committed a crime. And he did. He was convicted of a felony. And look, I think you need to take everything into account. Yes, he’s suffering greatly from PTSD. He has wounds, head wounds, that have caused him great debilitation. That’s going to have an impact. That has an impact on a lot of our men and women who return and have a great difficulty. But look, you have to take that and balance that out with what? With the fact that this is the only country that he knows. They should have facilitated his American citizenship, because had he been an American citizenship, he would have simply been—gone to trial, paid his time and then be reintegrated into society.
We think this is an exceptional case in which the government should—and just so that we’re clear, I called the prosecutors, and I said, "This begs for you to show discretion. You do not have to deport Mr. Perez. You can show discretion and withdraw the charges. He’s already paid his—he went to jail for five years. The sentence of the judge, he fulfilled it completely. Don’t add an additional—how would I say?—burden to this man. Let him reintegrate, where he needs his family more than ever before." But we have hundreds of veterans like this that are on the other side of the border who have served in the armed forces of the United States faithfully and dutifully.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, President Trump called his deportation plans a "military operation" during his meeting with CEOs.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You see what’s happening at the border. All of a sudden, for the first time, we’re getting gang members out. We’re getting drug lords out. We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before. And they’re the bad ones. And it’s a military operation, because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before, and all of the things, much of that is people that are here illegally. And they’re rough, and they’re tough, but they’re not tough like our people. So we’re getting them out.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to that, Congressman Gutiérrez—
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —what he’s saying? Also the fact that the budget’s just been released and, you know, massively upping the Pentagon budget, Homeland Security budget, including paying for the wall, that President Trump said he would never do?
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. Look, again, what they are doing is this new act of criminalizing all immigrants, right? So, every time—and they only talk about one border. They don’t talk about the border at JFK or the one at LAX or Miami or the one in O’Hare, where literally hundreds of thousands of immigrants come on a monthly basis, and millions of immigrants that have overstayed their visa arrived in the United States. They want to focus on brown people. They want to focus on that border with Mexico. And they want to make it appear that you have everything to fear from these bad hombres, because the criminal cartel that impacts your life is only the one that comes through that border. Nonsense.
Look, the fact is that border—entries through the border are at a record low and continuing to be reduced. You know who’s showing up at that border? Refugees. Yes, refugees from Guatemala, from El Salvador, that are coming from Honduras. Why? Because there are criminal cartels that are there. And let me just suggest to the American public this: Those criminal cartels are there because of the insatiable demand that exists in the United States for the drugs that they run into the United States, number one.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Gutiérrez—
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: It’s an American dollars, it’s American guns, that are using and fortifying those cartels.