Gutierrez Slams Graham Over Immigration Reform

Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:49pm

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), the leading Congressional advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, slammed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday for pulling his support for a Senate blueprint.

Graham “said he was going to be an ally and a fighter on comprehensive immigration reform,” Gutierrez said. “He changed his mind and undermined the whole process.”

Gutierrez called on Democratic Senators to move forward on immigration — with or without Republicans. “We cannot allow people like Lindsey Graham to unilaterally … veto a whole movement for justice and for fairness for immigrations in this country,” Gutierrez said.

Graham worked for months with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on a comprehensive approach before throwing cold water last week on the idea of moving legislation this year. On Monday, Graham said he would not negotiate on another Democratic priority — a climate change proposal — unless immigration is taken off the table for the year.

Gutierrez said Graham’s new posture was especially troubling since Graham had recently chastised President Barack Obama for not pressing Congress hard enough to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. Graham, the lone GOP common denominator on both climate change and immigration legislation, decided to pull out of climate change talks after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated last week that he planned to move an immigration bill before climate change legislation.

Although Reid has now changed course and is again leaving open the option of moving a climate change bill first, Gutierrez defended the Majority Leader, who he said had been “thrown a curve ball” by Graham.

“Last week, [Reid] had a friend, a friend that was encouraging him and Democrats to do more and the president to get more engaged,” Gutierrez said, adding, “When they did that, [Graham] changed his mind and undermined the whole process.”

The Senate’s only Latino member, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), said he was still optimistic that the chamber could pass a bill this year, even though no Republicans have indicated they might support a bill.

“If we put our effort to it, and we have presidential leadership and we have Republicans who truly want to see immigration reform versus just talk about it, I think it’s possible,” Menendez said, adding that he and other Democratic advocates are committed to reaching out to Republican Senators.

“We’re going to talk to everybody that has a legitimate interest on immigration reform,” he said.

Gutierrez said a lack of Republican support should not preclude Senate Democrats from introducing and moving forward with a debate on a comprehensive bill.
“The Senate has a responsibility to lead,” he said. “There is a majority of Democrats there.”

Gutierrez noted that a lack of Republican support did not prevent Senate Democrats from bringing regulatory reform and health care proposals to the floor.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called for votes in both chambers on a comprehensive bill before the end of the year, even if those votes do not succeed.

“I think the American people — at some point — are going to want to see people on the record saying, ‘OK, we wanted to do something,'” Grijalva said. “This suspended animation stuff that we’re going through is not healthy both for the issue and for the communities most affected by us doing nothing.”

Among those communities Grijalva counted many in his home state, which has been thrust into the limelight as the national debate over immigration has reignited again in response to a new Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration.

About a dozen lawmakers, most of them minorities, held a press conference Wednesday morning where they pledged to fight to overturn the Arizona law — which they characterized as an unconstitutional attack on civil liberties — and to press for Congressional action on a comprehensive bill this year.

Grijalva also is encouraging national organizations to cancel or refuse to schedule conferences in Arizona, a strategy that he said already has resulted in a half-dozen organizations canceling events.

Without a significant effort to pass a comprehensive bill this year, Grijalva said Democrats face the danger that Latinos will “feel they don’t have to participate in the voting process.”

“They’re not going to flock over and vote for the Republicans,” Grijalva said. “The consequence for us is that they don’t help us — and that wouldn’t be god in the midterms.”