Over the weekend, Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post had a long interview with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a longtime champion of immigration reform, to talk about how immigration reform will get through Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP. You can read the full interview here—it’s long, but with plenty of details about how far the immigration fight has come and how much farther it has to go.
Gutierrez talks about the House bipartisan Gang of 7 bill that is scheduled to be released sometime in September, the balance between enforcement provisions and a path to citizenship that must exist in a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and how the vast majority of Americans want Congress to take action on the issue.
In one excerpt, Gutierrez discusses how different this year’s fight for immigration reform is from previous attempts to push it through. The coalition is broader and more diverse than ever, and more Republicans than ever are signing up. Just this last weekend, for example, Gutierrez showed up in a Bakersfield town hall with a California Republican, Rep. David Valadao, to talk about their points of agreement on reform. As Gutierrez says, there enough bipartisan votes to pass immigration reform through the House right now, if only Speaker John Boehner would allow such a vote:
They’re here. The 45, 50 Republicans that we were always looking for — they’re present. And they’re present and they’re embodied in Carter, and they’re embodied in Paul Ryan, and in Sam Johnson, and in [Rep. Mario] Diaz-Balart [R-Fla.], who has been wonderful. He’s been very good, very upfront and I think has helped to give hope, especially as we communicate with immigrants and the Latino community, and they see the two of us working together.
Because people get disillusioned. If it were easy, someone else would’ve done it and would’ve done it already. This is difficult stuff, and there are a lot of forces that are aligned to stop us from doing it.
I had a colleague of mine come up to me and say, “Oh Luis, when you’re out there with Valadao on Saturday, you’re not going to say a whole bunch of nice things about him are you?” Damn straight I’m going to say a lot of nice things about him!
I mean, this is about 11 million undocumented people– 1,200 are deported everyday and this is about their children, and the devastating effect that this having. This is about people dying in the desert every week. This is about women being raped in the fields everyday. This is about children being left without their mom and their dad. This is about people losing fingers and hands and eyes and dying because of unscrupulous employers. This is the devastating effect that our broken immigration system has.
If someone steps in and says, “I’m ready to join you, I’m a freshman member, I haven’t done this before, and I am a Republican, but I am ready to step in,” I think you need to applaud that. I think you need to say thank you, and appreciate them, and we’ve already done it. When Paul Ryan came to Chicago, he was received with mariachis and applause, and what are you supposed to say? “Oh, thanks?”
No, we need to be celebratory about those who are building a pathway to justice. If you’re constructing a new world where people finally don’t live in fear, that’s to be celebrated. But, the constraints of the Congress of the United States are such that partisanship is so pervasive, that it’s hard.
He continues, asking Speaker Boehner why the Hastert rule is necessary when a democratic majority of the House supports and wants immigration reform:
Part of what I am attempting to do is to work with members of the other side of the aisle. That’s why I will be visiting California and Denver this weekend to build what it is Speaker Boehner says is necessary, but also to build the voice of America, that says, “You know Speaker, why is it that the Washington Post and the very conservative, business-oriented editorial board of the Wall Street Journal will almost be plagiarizing each other?” Not that they are of course, but the symmetry there?
The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce? They’re always at loggerheads, they say mean, nasty things about one another. They reached an agreement! How is it that [Sen. Pat] Leahy [D-VT], the chairman of the Judiciary committee, all he wanted was for gay people to be treated like straight people in terms of immigration policy, and he didn’t even get that? And McCain and Rubio made an agreement with Menendez and Durbin, two pretty partisan guys on one side and a couple of other partisan guys on the other side said, “We’re going to leave partisanship alone and find an American solution.”
When you look at growers and the union organized by Cesar Chavez reaching a national agreement, when you see evangelicals and Baptists, conservatives, together with Presbyterians and Unitarians, and Muslims and Mormons, all coming together to find common ground to solve our immigration system, why is it that the only place in the social, economic, political spectrum of America that we can’t find this is in the House of Representatives?
It is the only place where we say, “Oh no, here, we want a majority of the majority. Here we want a Republican solution. Not an American solution but a Republican solution, a private solution to the problem of immigration. We know this is the the people’s house, but we’re not gonna let the people’s voice be heard, and let democracy reign, until 120 out of 435 agree to allow the rest of them to be able to express themselves in a democratic fashion.”
That’s a quandary that I think the Speaker is going to find himself in. People are saying, “Allow democracy.” So I’m going to challenge that. It’s almost too cavalier. “Of course Luis, you have 218 votes, but you need a majority of the majority.” It’s almost like that is what is taught in basic civics in America, and why would you question it? It’s the new truth.
We’re going to question that new truth. You just say, “Wait a minute, that’s not exactly fair. I thought the guy with the most votes wins.