When Rep. Luis Gutierrez first arrived in Congress years ago, a Capitol Hill security guard stopped him. She didn’t believe he was a member of Congress.
“I showed her my ID and she wasn’t convinced,” he says on this week’s episode of “Majority Minority,” a McClatchy podcast hosted by William Douglas and Franco Ordoñez.
“There were a couple of little Puerto Rican flags involved in this,” he says. “They became unfurled as they went through the X-ray machine, and she was very upset. A little too upset.”
On the podcast, Gutierrez talks about how he went from being one of the first Latinos to endorse Barack Obama for president to one of the first to brand him as the “deporter in chief” over his immigration policies.
“It impacted (us) greatly – now we weren’t friendly with one another,” he says. “It was tough. And it’s tough standing up to a friend.”
Gutierrez, a 13-term Democrat from Chicago, opens up about his relationship with the former president, and the prospects of getting a comprehensive immigration overhaul under President Donald Trump. He recalls what it was like growing up in two cultures – American and Puerto Rican – and the struggle to be accepted in both.
“I always felt I was too Puerto Rican to be American and then when I went to Puerto Rico I was absolutely too American to be Puerto Rican – kind of caught in this middle,” he recalls.
Gutierrez has been in the forefront in Congress in pursuing changes in the nation’s immigration laws that could provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people currently living in the United States illegally.
He was a member of the so-called “Gang of 8,” a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that tried – and failed – to craft a comprehensive immigration restructuring that could get through Congress.
Gutierrez thought he had found a kindred spirit on immigration in Obama, who made reshaping immigration laws a key issue in his 2008 presidential campaign.
But he sensed shortly after the 2008 election that Obama was moving away from his campaign vow to make immigration a priority.
“I went to see him while he was in his transition period and I said, ‘Immigration reform,’ and he says, ‘Can’t do it. We’re bleeding hundreds of thousand, some months we’re bleeding a million jobs, Luis. We can’t do it. Why don’t you come back in April?’ ” Gutierrez says. “I took that as a sign that he wasn’t going to keep his promise. And I was right.”
In this episode, Gutierrez:
▪ Discusses the immigration policy differences between Trump and Obama.
▪ Talks about how living in Puerto Rico helped shape his ethnic identify and ignited his interest in politics.
▪ Recalls how he infuriated fellow Capitol Hill lawmakers in 1993 with his successful crusade to require them to be subjected to the same pay freeze levied against other federal workers.