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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles on June 3, Luis V. Gutierrez, Congressman, Illinois 4th District
EOH: What is your take on the growth of the Hispanic population and the effect on the political front?
LVG: Democrats had real difficulty in winning back the presidency. The political landscape comes down to determining a few states. In the last election, Barack Obama carried not only Florida, but also New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, New York, Illinois and California. These states have a common feature; they have a large Latino voter constituency. In 2008 2 million more Latinos participated in the electoral process compared to 2004, and Barack Obama got 7 out of 10 of those votes. He communicated effectively with the Latino community, and one of the issues he used was that he was going to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. That drove a lot of the Latino community out to vote. A lot of people think “Latino and immigration, they weren’t born here, they’re not American Citizens”. The fact is, 7 out of 10 Latinos are American citizens, and for the youth under 18, it’s 9 out of 10 likely to be an American Citizen. There are 8 million Latinos that are permanent residents of the United States who can apply for American Citizenship. Every year 500 thousand Latinos turn 18 and can register to vote.
EOH: Did you attend the meeting at the White House on Comprehensive Immigration and are you satisfied with the Democratic Party.
LVG: We had a good meeting at the White house with President Obama and his top policy advisors about three weeks ago. The only thing that was discussed was immigration and what kinds of administrative action the President could take to alleviate the separation of families that is occurring throughout immigrant communities. We have a lot of destructive impact; young kids graduating from high school, going to college, getting deported. Men and women serving in the armed forces whose spouses are under order of deportation. We have 4 million American citizen children who have one or both parents undocumented and getting deported by the thousands. 400 thousand people were deported last year from the United States, a record number of people since the 1950’s. The majority have no criminal background; men and women working in this country that are undocumented. What we asked them to do was to say if you’re a Dream Student, you came here young, 3-4 years old, you came with your mom or dad, you didn’t violate the law, you were too young, you want to go to college or in the armed forces, you know what, Mr. President, you’re not going to deport them. You can’t grant them legalization, give them a green card, or bring them on the road to citizenship, but you can say “I’m going to set them aside.” And where there are American children involved, you’re going to set their parents aside and have them come forward unless they have committed a serious criminal offense. We talked about children, both those going to college and those younger and their parents, to see what kind of administrative action the President could take, and we encouraged him to take them, because the President does have the prosecutorial discretion and can promulgate the regulations in order to get this done. We think the Democrats can do more. Democrats are by and large pro-immigrant. The President has a pro-immigrant policy, but he spent his first two 2 years and didn’t act and didn’t make it a top priority as he said he would when he was running for President. The “Dream Act” passed the House of Representatives last fall, 216 to 198; 208 were Democrats and 8 Republicans. Every last member of the Black Caucus voted for the “Dream Act”, as well as every member of the Asian Pacific Caucus and Hispanic Congressional Caucus. It has broad appeal, but the Democrats waited until the fall where we only got 55 votes in the Senate. You don’t get anything enacted upon in the Senate. We want the President to do more and to use his kind of power. A young immigrant Latino, 21 or 22, graduating from college, said “All I want Barack to do is to defend me as much as the other side wants to hurt me.” In my opinion, there is no home for the Latino immigrant community in the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party has to open its arms and embrace the community.
EOH: Do you feel the Republican Party abandoned the Latino vote?
LVG: What they have essentially done with Latino immigrants is demonize and criminalize us, say it’s those scary people coming here to destroy America. In campaigning for Harry Reed in Nevada, I saw some of the anti-Harry Reed commercials and I saw some of the pictures of my Latino brothers and sisters that they put up and it scared me. I want to make sure our immigration system, every gang-banger, drug dealer, everyone who causes havoc in immigrant communities across this country, we should get rid of them, because that is not the true face of our community. Those millions of voters resent it, are angered by it, and that’s why the Republican Party is doing such a poor job. There is a sense in the Latino community that President Barack Obama can do more, and he is withholding the kinds of actions he can take because he is taking the community for granted. I think part of this is that the immigrant activists are kind of tied; and that it’s been a real problem. You think Democrat, you think immigrant, and you think one and the same, and sometimes you don’t get sufficient change for the people. People come up to me and say, “Luis, be careful. We don’t want to let the Republicans into the White House. Barack can do more, and we’re unhappy and dissatisfied.” There is that tension between “I want more, but I like the guy. I would like him a lot more if he would simply take some action.” You have a lot of popular support in the Latino community. It’s not whether he’s going to get the Latino vote, it’s how many? 10 million, 12 million, 14 million, how many are going to come out to vote?