Worse Partisanship en Español?

Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) spoke at yesterday’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus press conference about the impasse on Capitol Hill concerning the unaccompanied Central American minors now flooding across the Mexican border. He segued into Spanish at the end of his comments.

“Gutierrez reportedly increased his rhetoric when he switched to Spanish,” according to Realclearpolitics, which linked to some back and forth between PBS’ Gwen Ifill and the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe over whether the Congressman got more intemperate after he switched languages.

You be the judge.

Here is the tail end of the three-minute Realclear clip. For context, I join him while he is still speaking English, and follow with all of what he said in Spanish.

Luis Gutierrez:

Lastly, not only do they treat the children that are in such need of protection, it is almost as though they despise and hate all of our children. Because even the children that came before them, that have pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States all of their lives, love this country, and the President has afforded them an opportunity to become legal. They [congressional Republicans] want to put them in an illegal situation, an undocumented situation even though that America—and let me just suggest to everybody that an election was held in November of 2012, after the President made that decision, and the American people thought it was a good decision. And we are here to affirm it and to say we will not step back.

Lastly, hay que hacer claro que nosotros hablamos con una sola voz, no como el Caucus Congresional Hispano, no como Demócratas, sino como defensores de nuesto pueblo inmigrante. Esto es ofensivo a nuestra comunidad y nosotros no vamos a tolerar el abuso que ellos tienen contra los niños en la frontera y contra los Soñadores, setecientos mil de ellos, que tienen permisos [de] trabajo. Nos defenderemos [a] todos con todo lo que tenemos.


Lastly, it must be made clear that we speak with one single voice, not as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, not as Democrats, but as defenders of our immigrant people. This is offensive to our community and we are not going to tolerate the abuse that they [congressional Republicans] have against the children at the border and against the Dreamers, 700,000 of them, who have work permits. We will defend everyone with everything we have.

Actually let me be the judge, at least so far as to say that the English invective—his saying that it “almost” seems his colleagues across the aisle “despise and hate all of our children”— is harsh enough.

If you read Representative Gutierrez’s recent memoir (I recommend it) you’ll see he has a demagogic side and a canny, negotiating side. Sometimes it’s hard to see the connection between the two. I do, though. With his absurd formulation at the press conference he was trying to rope in a different but related subject. He was conflating the unaccompanied children with a group that has been longer in the United States, the undocumented young adults seeking in-state tuition costs for college through the oft-discussed but never-passed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

He was actually pressing a policy point, if wildly. (You can even see one of the Congressmen with him at the dais turn away in embarrassment during his most unmeasured moments.) His frustration that a comprehensive immigration bill has moved farther out of reach is palpable. The position of some Republicans on the deportation of family members had been drawing nearer to his in recent months; but now, with the spectacle of kids in detention centers and being bused all over the country, the immigration policy mess got a lot more complicated.

This is not to excuse his shrillness. (Or anyone else’s—recall the often bombastic former House member Tom Tancredo [R-CO], who wrote in his book In Mortal Danger that it used to be that American employers “wanted people of good moral character who had a good work ethic. Today they prefer lawbreakers.”) How can legislators ever find common ground when these kinds of appeals are being made?

Representative Gutierrez entered Congress back in 1992, when the people covered by the 1986 immigration law were just becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship. They held green cards. With his aid—and why shouldn’t Republicans consider extending the same help to legal immigrants?—many were able to become naturalized Americans. What is problematic is that in his book, and also in real life, he tends to blur the difference between the rights and obligations of those who are lawfully here and the rights and obligations of those who are not.

The Members of Congress with whom he has for years been trying to come to terms on immigration, such as Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Raul Labrador (R-ID), have in him not only a self-righteous interlocutor but one whose political project lacks a limiting principle.