In an exclusive interview I did with Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez for Fox News Latino he told me that he is working with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on a version of the DREAM Act that will halt deportation of young, undocumented immigrants who are currently in school or serving in the military – but will not grant them citizenship.
Gutierrez, a strong supporter of President Obama, his fellow Illinois Democrat, said he expects 70 percent of Latinos to vote for the president and thinks the large Hispanic vote in Arizona, angered by new laws there targeting immigrants, may swing the state to the Democrat column in the November election.
While the Congressman is critical of likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney as “too extreme” on immigration, especially with Romney calling for immigrants to consider "self-deportation" and his opposition to the DREAM Act, he is willing to work with Rubio, Romney’s possible running mate.
He believes Rubio, a man called the ‘crown prince of the Tea Party,’ has the stature in the GOP to win over enough Republicans in Congress to vote with Democrats and stop deportations of young people eligible for the DREAM Act.
“When Rubio comes to the table…I think he is sincere,” the Congressman said in the interview. ‘You know, Luis… you want to end the deportations…I want to end the deportations.’”
Gutierrez argues that Rubio is trying to find a proposal that will attract enough Republican votes in Congress to support Democrats in passing a watered down version of the DREAM Act that will at least halt deportations of talented, hard-working young people.
“Who am I to stand by and say, ‘Oh, I've got to have something perfect,’ said Gutierrez. “I have to stop [young people] from being deported… here is how I look at it. Every time they deport one of those DREAM kids, Juan, I am not getting them back. You are not getting them back. They are gone. There is never going to be legislation later on that says ‘Oops, we made a mistake, let’s bring them all back.’ Every time I allow one of them to be deported, we have lost them forever. I need to save them today.”
And in exchange for stopping the deportations he is willing to give up on the current DREAM Act proposal to give those young people citizenship.
Rubio, in a recent Fox News Latino exclusive, told me he opposes the current version of the DREAM Act because it will allow relatives of those young people granted citizenship to also become citizens and he does not want to start that “chain” and does not think Republicans will support it.
Gutierrez is willing to accept the watered down version – if it will end deportations.
“Even if it is watered down and does not grant citizenship, if it stops the deportation…” Gutierrez is willing to work with Rubio.
He promises to work for DREAM students and soldiers to get citizenship but “in the interim period, Juan, here's what I see. I see young people getting deported…[so] why don’t I just work with anybody and everybody – regardless of political affiliation, regardless of motivation – that gets us to stopping the deportations.”
The original DREAM Act grants citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, provided they attend college or serve in the military. Conservatives in Congress have opposed this effort characterizing it as “amnesty for illegal aliens” borrowing a page from the same playbook that successfully sunk immigration reform in 2005.
Gutierrez is one of the top Latino elected official in the country and by far the leading national political voice among Hispanics in support of the DREAM Act and opposition to anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and other states.
He was elected to Congress in 1993 and before that, he was a member of the Chicago City Council for six years representing a large immigrant population in the city’s 26th ward. He is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants.
Gutierrez knows the politics of this emotional issue as well as anyone in Washington. This is why he is convinced any immigration reform effort must be bipartisan. In our interview, he cautioned President Obama:
“Listen, I want nothing but success for Barack Obama. It is not easy for me to challenge him, but I feel I need to, to make this a better nation and I feel that that’s my first and foremost responsibility, number one,“ Gutierrez said.
In the past, Gutierrez has criticized the president for not issuing an executive order to halt the deportation of minors who meet the DREAM Act criteria.
In his first term, Obama has also deported more immigrants than President Bush did in two terms.
“If he is ready to challenge his party, then I think I need to lower the rhetoric and the volume, right, and the hostility and begin to listen…because we have got to find some common ground. Here is one thing that everyone will agree on: You cannot pass immigration reform unless it’s bipartisan.”
The Congressman has been an effective advocate for immigrants because his passion and concern for these individuals is evident whenever he speaks about them. But Gutierrez shows that passion does not preclude compromise in politics. In this case, it may well be that the passion and concern of Gutierrez and Rubio for their brothers and sisters forges the best kind of compromise.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.