House

Gutiérrez ready to give in on wall

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Saturday that he's ready to give President Trump his signature border wall if the Republicans will agree to new legal protections for "Dreamers."

 

Furthermore, he said he'd help with the construction.

 

"I'll take a bucket, take bricks, and start building it myself," Gutiérrez told reporters in the Capitol. 

 

"We will dirty our hands in order for the Dreamers to have a clean future in America." 

 

The comments constitute a remarkable concession from the Chicago Democrat, among Capitol Hill's most vocal immigration reform advocates and fiercest opponents of expanding wall construction at the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

The concession comes as other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), have said they could agree to a wall in exchange for protection for the Dreamers, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Schumer has said he was close to a deal with Trump before the White House came forward with additional demands.

 

The issue was a major factor contributing to the impasse that led to the government shutdown Saturday morning.

 

Trump made building "a big beautiful wall" the cornerstone of his "America First" campaign, but has failed so far to secure the funding to realize that promise in the face of congressional Democrats, who are virtually united against the idea.

 

The immigration debate - including the wall - has been front-and-center in recent months after Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative providing legal protections to hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. The president gave Congress until March 5 to reinstate those protections. 

 

Amid the debate, Democrats and some Republicans have pressed GOP leaders to attach DACA language to a government spending bill - a strategy Trump and Republicans have rejected, favoring a stand-alone bill.

 

"We have been, and we continue to be, willing to work together in good faith on immigration," Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Saturday on the House floor.

 

Yet there are few issues that divide the Republican Party like immigration, and for all their criticisms of DACA and Obama's other policies, GOP leaders have been loath to consider any legislation that touches on the fate of the 11 million people living in the country illegally.

 

Democrats are growing increasingly anxious that, despite vows from Trump and Republicans to adopt DACA protections in the coming weeks, the March 5 deadline will come and go without any action.

 

Gutiérrez's decision to embrace the wall is emblematic of that anxiety, signaling the lengths that immigration rights advocates are willing to go to secure an agreement on the Dreamers.

 

Gutiérrez made explicitly clear that he hasn't changed his thinking about the wall itself - a concept he characterized as a "demeaning" approach to immigrants and border policy.

 

"For me, why don't you just take your middle finger and point it at Mexico? ... Because it's the same thing," he said. "I really don't believe that it's about security. It's about saying, 'Brown people stay out of the country.' And the president's said as much."

 

Gutiérrez said he sees the wall as a price the Democrats will have to pay to secure the DACA protections - one he's now willing to pay.

 

"We've stopped arguing that it's unnecessary, because it's ransom," he said.

 

The sides made some progress on the immigration impasse Friday night, when Senate GOP leaders agreed to stage a vote by Feb. 8 on a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), that couples DACA protections with tougher border security efforts. The bill faces stiff headwinds, however, after Trump rejected the proposal last week, siding with conservative immigration hawks who deem it too soft on enforcement.

 

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of those immigration hard-liners, who heads the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said this week that Trump has promised conservatives that he won't support any immigration bill that lacks the support of both Meadows and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

 

"The president has consistently said that he wants to make sure Tom Cotton and I can embrace a deal that he cuts," Meadows said Friday. "And I trust him at his word."

 

Gutiérrez said Graham and Durbin, who include some new wall funding in their DACA bill, should have simply offered more to win the president's support.

 

"I don't know why the president, when Durbin and Graham walked it, why he didn't just say, 'Double it, and I want it in the first year,' " Gutiérrez said. 

 

"Done. Let's move forward."

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