Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and immigration chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that he’ll urge President Barack Obama to issue work permits to let millions of undocumented immigrants stay in the U.S.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with the chairman of the immigration task force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, probably the most influential Latino leader in Washington.
Congressman, thank you for being with us.
REPRESENTATIVE LUIS GUTIERREZ: Pleasure to be with you, Al.
HUNT: Let’s talk about the border crisis. And let me just certify, to begin with. Here are the facts we know. These kids are coming from only three countries. We also know that the 2008 law signed by President Bush precludes the president from immediately deporting them. They are treated -- they’re treated differently.
He’s asked for $3.7 billion in appropriations to meet this crisis. Republicans say we’ve got to repeal that 2008 law as part of the package.
Is that a dealbreaker for you?
GUTIERREZ: It is. If it’s going to include -- undermine the guarantees that the children have to their day in court, to due process.
HUNT: You know, I think this is --
GUTIERREZ: That moment of American exceptionalism, right? Do we let the United Nations and the international community declare this a refugee crisis? Or do we, as we have done, set the standard for what -- how we treat children who reach our borders?
So we did it for a good reason in 2008, right? I mean, Bush signed the law. Just think about it. Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, I mean, Lamar Smith -- they all voted for it. And they haven’t exactly been expansive on the policy for immigration. Why? Because level-headed people, right, at a quiet, sane time came up with a policy of how we treat children.
HUNT: So right now, as they try to repeal it, you would say under no circumstances.
GUTIERREZ: What -- OK, so the only thing Barack Obama’s ever going to pass and sign into law, right, is never an immigration reform bill that would bring benefit to our country economically and bring a sense of safety harbor for the undocumented and their families, but a new deportation bill. No.
HUNT: Well, given the recalcitrance of Republicans, which you have seen, with immigration, do you think a bill will pass this summer?
GUTIERREZ: A bill -- the president’s appropriation bill?
HUNT: Yes, yes, the appropriations.
GUTIERREZ: My hope is that they will -- look, the president wants to expedite the processes, the judicial processes, that the children are going to go through. I think that’s a good idea. Put more judges, put more --
HUNT: But do you think Congress will pass the bill?
GUTIERREZ: I hope so. I hope so.
HUNT: I know you hope so. What do you think? Because you’ve been there, you’ve --
GUTIERREZ: We’re going to have to. Because, in the end, here’s what’s going to happen. Homeland Security, right, and HHS have a limit. What you’re going to find is they’re going to take care of the children and then we’re going to weaken our defenses, right, against external, internal respite (ph). We really do -- those kids are not a threat. They’re showing up at the border and handing themselves over to the Border Patrol.
Look, it’s a moment of really questioning. I -- somebody asked me, I said, look, if I saw a kid across the street from my house and he was 10 years old, I’d run across the street and say, “Where’s your mom? How can I -- ‘‘I wouldn’t call the police and say, ‘I got a vagrant on the block.’”
I mean, really. Let’s treat children -- 2002, Dick Armey clearly had the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security. All of these safeties for children reaching our --
GUTIERREZ: -- were put in by Dick Armey in 2002.
HUNT: You have requested a meeting with the president. Are you going to see him?
GUTIERREZ: We’re going to -- looks like we’re going to see him the 24th. My hope is the week of the 24th, the chairman of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, Ruben Hinojosa, from Texas, has --
HUNT: You mean for the whole caucus.
GUTIERREZ: It is my hope. And here’s what I -- what a great moment for the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, our membership, right? To be a voice in -- for this nation. And we’re going to go in there, and I got to tell you, Al -- I already told the chairman, I’m not going to try to schedule the speaking roles for members. Right? I mean, we’ve got a lot of people. Because you wouldn’t want to be somebody that wanted to stop a member of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus from speaking up about stopping the deportations and what the president can do --
HUNT: You were talking --
GUTIERREZ: -- to help.
HUNT: One thing you were upset with, was when he didn’t go to the border this week when he was in Texas. When you see him the 24th, are you going to tell him, “You got to go back to that border?”
GUTIERREZ: I think he should. I think he should own this.
He’s the president of the United States of America.
HUNT: So he should do that.
GUTIERREZ: This is a crisis on our border. The world is looking at us. And you know something? It’s a moment to show just how -- it takes -- it’s hard to see those kids, right? But it’s -- requires the president. I just believe if he went down there -- see, here’s what I believe. That America’s much more generous, right? And has a greater faith in itself than we’re giving the radical extremists out there that are demagoguing on this issue.
HUNT: Congressman, you met with the president last March, I believe, as immigration was trying to get through the House. It’s now failed. What did the president tell you last March?
GUTIERREZ: So, we have a resolution in which we basically condemn the president for the anniversary of 2 million deportations. He called and they said, Luis, before you get that resolution and present it at noon today, would you come down at 5:00 and see the president?
You know something, Al? The president of the United States call you, sure, you defer action on something, because you want to hear what he has to say. I don’t believe in condemning somebody just to condemn and making cheap political points. Let’s go see.
We went to go see him. Two things: he said, “I’ve instructed Secretary Jeh Johnson to look at how we do our deportations in a much more humane fashion.” That -- why do a resolution? You’ve already got the president’s act. But, secondly, he said, “Luis, come back at the end of July. I want you to bring your menu and we’re going to start picking from that menu of things I can do as president of the United States to alleviate.” Right?
HUNT: That’s if the House didn’t pass the --
GUTIERREZ: If the House doesn’t act. They said, “Luis, if the House doesn’t act.”
And I believe he always believed, Al -- he always believed that John Boehner was his partner on this.
HUNT: And he gets turned down. And now that he has, and you were going back at the end of July, you’re going to tell him what you expect him to do. Would that include -- can he grant work permits to all those undocumented covered by the Senate bill, I think it’s 8 or 9 million. Do you think he can do that by executive action?
GUTIERREZ: I think he can begin to do it and I think he can reach that goal, yes.
Let me just give you --
HUNT: But you start smaller and then you build on it?
GUTIERREZ: No, I think he can reach all of them, and I think we should have some conversations. I don’t want to preclude what the president -- I hope the president says, “This is the beginning.” Right? Even if it’s end, even if in his own mind, just in case someone comes up with another idea.
This is a new area, right? I mean, what are presidential prerogatives? They’re always challenged and tested in the court. But I think this is a moment for the president to stand up and say, “The country believes we should reform our immigration system. Sixty-eight senators believe that, including John McCain, who’s on the border.”
HUNT: But Republicans, you know, they -- some were upset with what he did of the Dreamers. And to say we’re going to do it 8 or 9 million more, they will go ballistic and say that’s unconstitutional. It’s illegal.
GUTIERREZ: Al, they said to me, “Luis, we don’t want the Senate bill.” I said, “I’ll help you draft the House bill.” They said, “We got to do it in parts and pieces; we can’t do a comprehensive.” I said, “OK, let’s do it in parts and pieces.”
They said, “Everybody can’t be a citizen, Luis.” I said, “OK, I’m not leaving the table. Let’s talk about that.”
Look, at what point do Republicans simply say yes?
And let me say this, there are dozens of wonderful women and men in the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, and I think it is shameful that the leadership does not allow them to vote their conscience. We don’t need one single Republican to risk their re-election effort and we don’t need one single Republican to come unwillingly. Happily, joyfully, with good conscience, they can come and we can pass and settle this issue.
HUNT: You have called the Republican opposition or opponents, not all of them, you call them petty and mean-spirited.
HUNT: Do you think there’s also some racism involved in this?
GUTIERREZ: Look, I will say this -- I speak from a personal experience. When I see those children, I see my own daughter. I can’t help but see that. It’s who I am. It’s part of the tradition I have as a human being, right? I see nieces, my nephews. And I just wonder don’t you see your children and other children in the same? Because that’s really what this is about.
And, secondly, 40 percent of all the undocumented, of the ones they call illegal, 40 percent of them never crossed that border. They came here legally to the United States; there are 5 million of them that came here legally, overstayed their visas. There’s 5 million undocumented. Why do we only talk about the border? Why is it every time we talk about the border, it’s about criminals and disease and what they’re bringing? Why can’t we talk about the wonderful economic impact and the hundreds of thousands of jobs Mexican consumers produce when they’re our second best trading partner?
HUNT: Congressman Luis Gutierrez, thank you so much for being with us today.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you.
HUNT: And when we return, Republicans choose Cleveland as a convention host. Does it matter? We’ll be right back.
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