This article is based on an exclusive interview of Rep. Luis Gutiérrez by Juan Williams, Special Contributor to Fox News Latino. The full interview will be published on Monday, May 21, 2012.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, the Illinois Democrat who has been a leading force in Congress in support of the DREAM Act, told Fox News Latino that he would support a pared-down GOP version --opposed by many in his party-- if it will keep undocumented youth from being deported.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News Latino special contributor Juan Williams, the congressman said he would work with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal for legislation that would halt the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought as minors if they attend college or serve in the military.
But the most criticized part of the Florida Republican’s proposal, which he is still drafting and has not described in detail, is that it would give those who qualify a visa, but not a direct path to a green card or citizenship.
“If he’s got a proposal, I will work with Rubio, I’m telling you that,” said Gutiérrez, who heads the immigration task force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "I think he's sincere, I think he's genuine."
Williams pressed Gutiérrez about if he would support the measure even though it explicitly does not grant legal permanent residency, known commonly as the “green card.” Many critics of Rubio’s proposal say denying permanent residency would make them second-class citizens --thus punishing people, the critics say, who were brought illegally into the United States through no fault of their own.
Gutiérrez said he believes they should have a path to citizenship – an aspect of the existing Democrat-driven DREAM Act that many Republicans oppose -- but that it’s more important to stop the deportations.
"In the interim, I see young people getting deported," he said.
Why don’t I just work with anybody and everybody, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of motivation, that gets us to stopping the deportations.
“Even if it’s watered down and does not grant citizenship, if it stops the deportations and doesn’t exclude them from becoming citizens, doesn’t stop that from happening, [then] yes,” he would support Rubio’s measure, Gutiérrez said.
Rubio, who is viewed as a strong contender for running mate of Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has said his proposal would give visas to undocumented immigrants --brought to the United States as children– if they attend college or serve in the military.
The DREAM Act that Democrats have pushed without success gives undocumented students brought as minors a chance to obtain permanent U.S. residency if they attend college or serve in the military, and eventually apply for citizenship if they desire.
Last month, Rubio said he was trying to find a workable compromise to the DREAM Act that many Democrats favor, but which many in the GOP see as “amnesty.”
Rubio said he wanted to find a way to give undocumented immigrants brought as minors a chance to “legitimize” without rewarding the breaking of laws.
The Democrat-driven version of the DREAM Act passed the House in 2010 by a 216-198 vote, but was defeated in the Senate by a 55-to-41 vote. In the Senate, three Republicans supported the measure, five Democrats voted no.
Gutiérrez said that both he and Rubio agreed that wholesale deportations of so-called Dreamers –the term given to those who would benefit from the DREAM Act –must stop.
“When Rubio comes to the table, here’s what I would say, I think he’s sincere,” Gutiérrez said. “I think what Rubio is saying is ‘Here’s what I can do. This is what is possible for me to bring Republicans who a year and a half ago, wouldn’t vote for cloture on the DREAM Act so that we can get the vote, but will vote for this.’”
“Why don’t I just work with anybody and everybody, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of motivation, that gets us to stopping the deportations.”
Gutiérrez was one of three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who met with Rubio recently to learn more about his proposal and to gauge the likelihood that it could get bipartisan support – especially in an election year.
Gutiérrez said he’d like to be optimistic that some form of relief could be given to undocumented youth, but that he remains concerned about bipartisan support.
He said he felt that Rubio could get enough of his GOP colleagues to pass the bill in the Senate, which has a Democrat majority. But he expressed less optimism about bipartisan support in the House.
“How do we get it passed [in the House]?” he asked. He pointed out that, of eight Republicans who helped pass the DREAM Act in 2010, six were no longer in the House.
Rubio has conceded that getting both parties to work together on such an incendiary issue as immigration would be difficult in an election year. House Speaker John Boehner, Republican, has also said that Rubio's proposal --when it is released in detail-- would face an uphill battle, given the high-level of bipartisan tensions.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org