by Moses Apsan, Esq.
There is an old proverb that says, “don't wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.” This is exactly what Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez did when he said on MSNBC’s Hardball that he cannot vote for the Senate health care plan because of its provision that illegal immigrants are barred from purchasing insurance through it’s exchange. He suggested that he'd swap his vote on health care reform -- from 'yes' to ‘no.’ Today, he confirmed it. Rep. Gutierrez stated that “If we bar the immigrant community from buying private insurance with their own money, we relegate them to emergency room care at the highest cost to taxpayers and deny them the important opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a healthier America.”
A no vote by Gutierrez would be a significant blow to President Obama. Last year Gutierrez voted 'yes' on the House health care bill. Changing his vote to a 'no' as Gutierrez suggested would take a important vote away from Obama during a time that he is desperately trying to keep enough votes to pass the heath care reform bill.
The importance of a comprehensive immigration overhaul could prove to be a crucial point in the 2010 elections. President Obama won the Hispanic vote by an overwhelming majority in 2008 largely due to his promise to reform immigration laws. If Obama fails to pass an immigration law this year, the Democrats could be facing even bigger trouble than the loss of Massachusetts, because Hispanic voters may wind up looking for another leader.
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By this writing, scores of articles have been written on how Gutierrez has “jumped ship” or “changed sides.” It is however, a plausible hypothesis that Gutierrez’s strategy follows the proverb and instead of waiting for immigration reform to come to him, he will “swim” out to it. Yes, I did say, immigration reform and not health care reform, because it appears, that his no vote is strategic and intended to cajole President Obama to get moving on comprehensive immigration reform. During the presidential campaign, Sen. Barack Obama campaigned aggressively on his promise to overhaul the immigration system. It’s been over a year now and he hasn’t made much progress. The primary reason for this delay is that he has yet to pass that health care bill that was supposed to be passed in the summer of 2009.
Last week the president met with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to discuss their views on how the immigration laws should be reformed. As the stakeholders walked away from the meeting they seemed to be happy, but many of them complained that there was no mention of when the president would begin to actively support immigration reform.
(Gutierrez’s strategy is bold and personally dangerous) as he could create a chasm between him and the president. Until now, Gutierrez has supported the President in most every respect. However, when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, Gutierrez apparently considers this issue very special. He has been an ardent advocate for the rights of immigrants and has been consistently attempting to “repair a broken immigration system while also providing a solution for the millions of undocumented immigrants who work every day without the legal recognition and protections.”
Due to his outstanding work on immigration issues, he was appointed Chair of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force, where he is the party's leading strategist and spokesperson on immigration issues.
In June 2007 when the Senate failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform law, he said, “The Senate's failure has not changed my conviction and I continue to be committed to fight the battle for comprehensive immigration reform.” And that is what he has done.
In December 2009, Gutierrez, in introducing his new Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill said," "The time for waiting is over. This bill will be presented before Congress recesses for the holidays so that there is no excuse for inaction in the New Year. It is the product of months of collaboration with civil rights advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress. It is an answer to too many years of pain --mothers separated from their children, workers exploited and undermined security at the border-- all caused at the hands of a broken immigration system. This bill says 'enough,' and presents a solution to our broken system that we as a nation of immigrants can be proud of."
Gutierrez along with a broad cross-section of House Democrats introduced the new comprehensive immigration reform bill. There were more than 80 co-sponsors that signed on to the legislation, titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, or "CIR ASAP" for short. The bill includes provisions altering the visa program to promote the reunification of families and establishing a commission to recommend changes to the current system of H-1B and H-2B visas for skilled workers, strengthening border security and creating a streamlined employment verification system.
Most importantly, the measure also contains an "earned legalization program" for the current 11 million undocumented immigrants, giving them the chance to obtain legal status if they pay a $500 fine, pass a criminal background check and show that they have made valuable contributions to American society "through employment, education, military service or other volunteer/community service."
In Gutierrez’s words "As a nation —as citizens— we cannot wait any longer for fair and just immigration reform …Across America, parents and children, husbands and wives are being torn apart by a system that values quotas over family values and which undermines our economic security in a time of crisis. It is for this reason that U.S. citizens … are joining this effort and standing up for real, lasting change."