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Rep. Gutierrez: GOP Must Be "Smart Enough" to Walk Away from Steve King, Mark Krikorian — and Pass Immigration Reform

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Over the last few weeks, House and Senate Democrats have been hammering House Republicans over their refusal to pass immigration reform, reminding the GOP that time is running out for their party and that appeasement of Steve King is not a winning strategy.  Today, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) echoed that message when he gave the keynote speech at a National Journal live event entitled “Pathways to Reform: A Discussion on Immigration Policy.”

Gutierrez began by giving a brief history of the push for immigration reform, and how legislation in the Bush years involved three components: immigration enforcement, legal immigration reform, and a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already here.  The thing that anti-immigrant restrictionists today don’t understand, Gutierrez said, is that the ‘enforcement’ part has now swung away from them.  Americans want our borders to be protected AND immigrants to be treated fairly.  Many Latino voters are part of a community that is suffering, that sees Republicans standing in between them and relief.

Republicans who don’t realize this — Republicans who give their votes to Steve King rather than passing immigration reform — are headed toward serious demographic trouble.  As Gutierrez said, self-deportation “does not pass the laugh test now,” and the Republican Party needs to move toward its reformers if it’s to preserve an electoral future for itself.

Read more of Rep. Gutierrez’s keynote speech below (emphasis ours):

The problem with the Republican Party is that the side of this policy issue that represents the law and order side has moved.

It moved from the enforcement-only side to the side that wants to do more than just enforcement so that we actually control immigration.

The Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, most of the Governors and Federal lawmakers moved too, but a lot of the Republican Party did not and are stuck in their old ways.  They continue to defend the status quo and try to make an argument about mass expulsion that the American people are not buying anymore.

Mark Krikorian, who will be on this panel later, invented the “Self-Deport” sound bite that Mitt Romney used in the 2012 campaign and — if it even ever did — it certainly does not pass the laugh-test now.

Enlightened Republicans like Haley Barbour – and a lot of other national Republican leaders from George W. Bush to Jeb Bush to Chris Christie — are trying to get more of their Republican brothers and sisters to see they are coming down on the wrong side of the law and order debate on immigration.

Not to mention the wrong side of the big government debate, the free market debate, the budget deficit debate and a lot of other debates that motivate Republican voters.

And starting a decade ago, public opinion started to switch sides, not just among American voters but among Republican voters and now even a majority of Tea Party voters support immigration reform…

Many who support the restrictionist view, championed by Mark Krikorian and Steve King, do not see that the law and order side of this debate has shifted and that they are  now on the side advocating against fixing our immigration system to make it more secure, more in control, and more legal.

In Chicago, with my base in Little Village, Pilsen, and Back of the Yards, the arguments that are persuasive with voters are the humanitarian ones.  The argument that we should keep families together and let young people who were raised in the United States live and work here legally – that is what is persuasive.

While the control and orderliness arguments are persuasive to the majority of Americans who are not deeply connected to the immigration issue, in the Latino community, the most important factor is the humanity.

Generally speaking, they see the Republican Party standing between them and an end to the deportations that are hurting their community and an end to the hostile rhetoric about immigrants and Latinos and they run the other way.  They run towards the Democrats even though the Democrats have been united around immigration reform only for the last few years.

And from a political point of view it is the human connection to the immigration issue – by U.S. citizens who feel a sense of solidarity with the undocumented — that will prove to be absolutely fatal to the Republican Party if they don’t get it off the table this year.

With 65,000 U.S. born Latino citizens turning 18 every single month for the next three decades, Republicans  cannot afford to be seen as a the Party that supports breaking up families in the Latino community and making it harder for children to attend college or serve in the military.  It is simply destructive for the Republican Party.

I’ll end with this before I take questions.

I think Republicans are smart enough to walk away from Steve King and Mark Krikorian and head in the direction of Haley Barbour, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

I still have hope that we will see a series of bills from House Republicans in just the next few weeks and that the ones who care about the future of the Republican Party and the future of the country will have a major confrontation with those who just want to play it safe and attack the President in an Election Year.

And if I am wrong, I look forward to working with Secretary Jeh Johnson and President Obama to see what we can do administratively to dial back deportations and institute a little compassion and sense in how we handle immigration.

Republicans have it within their power to legislate in the next five or six weeks and be able to help shape the immigration issue and claim some of the credit.

Or not.

And it is entirely up to them.