Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a leading advocate in the House for passing a bipartisan solution this year for expiring immigration protections, says action in Congress may have to wait until 2018.
If Republicans muster enough votes in their conference next week to clear a must-pass spending measure, Democrats’ efforts to achieve a legislative remedy for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will slide into next year, Gutiérrez told The Hill.
“There are 240 Republicans in charge of the House, and a majority of the Senate, and they control the White House. They’re in charge,” Gutiérrez said during an interview for The Hill’s “Power Politics” podcast.
“If a budget doesn’t get enacted, it’s because Republicans didn’t do their job, not Democrats,” he said, defending his party against accusations that it is seeking to shutter the government if Democrats cannot negotiate with Republicans on a deal for DACA and other policy concessions.
Republican leaders have said they want to find a solution before hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients become eligible for deportation at a Trump-imposed deadline in early March. But Democrats have pushed for a DACA bill well before then, hoping to tie it to must-pass spending legislation before the end of 2017, something GOP leaders have continued to resist.
The immigration dilemma is just one of a handful of pressure points left outstanding next week as the GOP races to enact their sweeping tax bill and fund the government before lawmakers leave town for the holidays. A short-term spending measure is set to expire Dec. 22.
“I never quite understand why Democrats are tripping over themselves saying, 'We don’t want to be held responsible for closing down the government.' Hell, you can’t close down the government!” Gutiérrez said, noting that Democrats are in the minority in the House.
Gutiérrez, an outspoken immigration activist from Chicago who recently announced that he is retiring from Congress at the end of 2018, acknowledged that Democrats are under pressure from the left to explain who is at fault should they turn up empty-handed on DACA this year.
“The ones that want to have a massive deportation regime in America are Republicans, led by Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE,” Gutiérrez said.
The congressman, who is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s immigration task force, told The Hill he does not trust the president’s assertions that he wants to show “heart” in finding a legislative solution to allow DACA recipients to stay and work in the U.S.
“I think that Trump is the embodiment of every ugly, fascist sentiment that exists in American politics. He’s like the sewer for it all,” Gutiérrez said. “The man lies for a living. He might as well breathe and lie at the same time. It’s almost essential to who he is.”
Gutiérrez pointed to Trump's renewed push to end immigration practices known as “chain migration,” which allow relatives to join family members in the U.S., calling it the most recent example of the president's negative characterizations of immigrants aimed at appeasing his base.
Two days after the interview with Gutiérrez was recorded, Trump said "terrorists" enter the United States “through the dysfunctional immigration system that we are correcting.” The president, speaking Friday at the FBI National Academy, said chain migration and visa lotteries opened the door to foreign-born attackers.
Gutiérrez said any deal Democrats may negotiate with Trump to tackle immigration disagreements will rely on leverage, not trust.
“You need to bargain with him not from a position of trust, but from a position of power. And you have to figure out where it is you leverage your power, because that’s the only thing Donald Trump understands, and nothing else,” Gutiérrez said.
That power, he added, comes from a changed Democratic Party and evolving public opinion about comprehensive immigration reform.
“It’s a different Democratic Party today,” Gutiérrez said, reflecting on policy shifts he’s seen since he arrived in Washington. “It’s a Democratic Party today that has embraced immigrants, immigrant issues. It’s a broader party.”