The FRONTLINE Interviews: Divided States of America

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez

D-Ill.

Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) is a 12-term congressman, a longtime advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians.

In 2013, Gutiérrez was part of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the House that sought to draft an immigration bill that would have helped secure the U.S.-Mexico border while establishing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. While a version of the bill passed the Senate in June 2013, the House effort collapsed in 2014.

In this interview, Gutiérrez recounts the events that sunk the House bill. "I knew we could be successful," he says, but when the immigration issue contributed to the primary loss of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor in June 2014, reform was doomed.

"Cantor didn't win, and that ended," Gutiérrez says. "It had it all collapse."

This is the transcript of an interview with FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on Sept. 27, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Congressman, let's talk about first expectations. President Obama is coming into office in January of 2009. Immigration is something that he promised that would be top of the line, something that he would move on quickly. You have a very long relationship with the president. What were your expectations?

When I went to see Sen. Obama in December of 2006 before he left that winter to Hawaii, which we all know is his vacation destination every Christmas--mine is Puerto Rico; his is Hawaii; we all have our preferences--he called me in and told me he was going to decide whether he was going to run for president of the United States or not. And I said to myself, you must be running for president if you're getting me out of my house to come out here just before you leave on vacation. I understood he's going to run for president, and he doesn't want the one Latino in Illinois not to be for him, right, so I said, "Well, you know what I really need to hear from you," and he says, "Luis, comprehensive immigration reform, first year of my administration." And we didn't have to talk much after that.

... From the very beginning our relationship vis-a-vis his presidential ambitions have always been anchored around his commitment to immigration reform.

And that's not what happened. You pushed--

That's not what happened, but not only that. I went with him to a conference of national Latino elected officials [National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials], and I picked him up at the airport, took him down there, did a little briefing about what the expectations were that day, and I said, "It would really be fantastic if you just said, because then you could be the top candidate, that you're going to come back and sign the bill." And that's exactly what he told everybody. He said: "Oh, you don't have to wait for me to come back to introduce a bill. I'm going to come back here with you at your annual conference to sign the bill." So he raised the expectations to a very, very high bar, and those were the expectations.

There are campaign promises that politicians make, and maybe you remember them. This was one that by the immigrant community and broad sectors of the Latino community was remembered, so it wasn't like a cavalier one of 10 promises, one of 10 things I have on my to-do list; it was a pretty important one that he made.

What are they saying to you as you're pushing and 2009 goes by, 2010 has gone by? What is the president saying to you?

I was very lucky, because the Secret Service was very worried that he kept his BlackBerry, his personal one, even though he had won the nomination, and so I, since he and I used to talk all the time, because he was my senator and I was a member of the House from Illinois, I called him, and he said, "Why don't you come on down?" I think it was the 9th or the 10th of December I went to meet him at the transition, one of the federal--I think it was Dirksen Federal Building [Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse]--went to go meet him, and he and I met one-on-one. And I said, "Comprehensive immigration reform?" He said: "You wouldn't be here, Luis, if it weren't important. You see anybody else in the room?" And I looked around. and I said, "No, it's just the two of us, so must be important." I had to give him that. And he said to me: "Losing hundreds of thousands of jobs, some months we're losing a million jobs. Don't think we're going to be able to do it, Luis. Why don't we talk again in April or May?" It was at that point I knew, I just knew in my gut that this was going to be an uphill battle, that he wasn't going to make this a priority in his administration.

First it was stimulus; then it was health care. You keep pushing. You start getting arrested outside the White House. What is going on? What are you feeling at that point? Do you kind of feel at this point it's never going to happen? You're worried about the Congress switching over. What is going through your head?

What's going through my head is, "This man voted for the fence in 2007." And it continues to go through my head even more during the past presidential campaign, right, the fence, the fence, the fence, and Donald Trump is talking about building a fence, and Barack Obama 2007 voted for a fence, because he sees these things as something that need to be resolved with the majority party, right? He doesn't look at immigration from a principle point of view, and what I mean by that: He doesn't see it as a basic fundamental human right and civil rights struggle, the fight. He sees it as a kind of an imbalance in the workforce, something that needs to be settled economically, but he doesn't see or feel the human toll that it just creates in a whole community of people.

So I begin to see Barack Obama as somebody who wants to do comprehensive immigration reform, but doesn't see it as a priority, because a) he wants to negotiate with Republicans. In order to negotiate with Republicans, just like he did in 2007, he feels he has got to deport a couple of million people, just to show that he is serious with Republicans that he is for immigration reform, because the Republicans are going to say, "You're not for border security; you're not for enforcing the law." Barack Obama is going to show them: "I went to law school at Harvard. I know about the law. I'm going to enforce the law. I'm going to enforce the law in such a manner, unprecedented in the history of the United States." Those are going to be the deportations of the man that came into office saying, "I'm going to bring you comprehensive immigration reform," to a community of people who wanted relief.

So once I and many of us arrive at the conclusion that Barack Obama didn't see this as a basic fundamental human rights issue, of course you interact with individuals like that with civil disobedience so that you can raise the issue and say, "If you do not act, then we are going to be forced to act in this manner."

But he is saying to you: "Patience. It will get done."

He is saying to me, "We have a lot of other problems." And the other thing he is saying is--you could tell, because then he comes and says, "What we're going to do, we're going to do health care." And I said, "Oh OK, now we're going to do health care." I saw how that went for Hillary Clinton. As a Democrat, I've been trying to do that for 20 years here. I said, "That's going to be one hell of a political mountain, too, but let's go do it." But what is the first thing he says when it comes to health care? "I'm going to exclude 11 million people. I'm going to have health care for everybody. But listen, American public"--and this is not an exaggeration; he said, "they will be excluded." And he used the word illegals. So when he said illegals were going to be excluded and said it on the House floor, with a joint session of Senate and the House, and then some congressman jumped up and said, "You lie," and I said: "No he's not, not about that. He might be a politician prone to being untruthful about things, but on this he is serious." So you see it just reinforced to us that he didn't see the humanity in this group. ...

They did it again even in 2012 after he was re-elected and they brought back immigration and successfully passed it through the Senate. The first thing the Democrats, not the Republicans--it wasn't a Republican demand--the first thing the Democrats walking into the negotiation said was: "Health care for the undocumented and comprehensive immigration reform, don't need to discuss it. It's off the table."

My point to the American public is that he didn't see it; he didn't see it. And I always found it troubling that a young man, [a] product of the civil rights movement--I consider myself a product of the civil rights movement; I was born in America when "separate but equal" was the law of the land, and so many people sacrificed so much so that I could have a voice in the American political process and system--that he wouldn't see Latinos in quite that way.

Let's talk about 2012 and what the expectations were. [Eric] Cantor and [John] Boehner know that they have to do something on immigration. They do the autopsy, and they realize, "Oh, my God, we're losing the Hispanics for the next several generations." Obama kind of knows, "All right, the deal is done here; I've got to do it now." What's the tenor? What are you thinking, "All right, finally"? Before it turns, what are you thinking?

What I'm thinking is that in the Senate they're going to have a process which cannot be replicated in the House of Representatives, and here is the fundamental reason: In the Senate, Democrats are in the majority; in the House, Democrats are in the minority. And you know what? In the end, the person with the most votes in a democracy gets to dictate. It's the way it is. When I was in the majority as a Democrat, we didn't call up the Republicans [and] say: "How you doing today? Is this OK?" We had a platform that we ran on, and we wanted to keep our promise. If you elected us, this is what we would do, and that's what we're going to do. And Republicans, they were the majority in the House of Representatives, and they were a majority that had become increasingly more conservative.

Let's remember that during the first two years of the Barack Obama presidency, 2009 and 2010, we had a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and we had the presidency. We didn't even have to discuss this with the Republicans. We could have just done immigration reform. But in 2011 and 2012 you saw an increase in the kind of xenophobic language of the Republican Party, which was even heightened by the time we come around to 2013, beginning of Barack Obama's second term. So at the beginning of Barack Obama's second term I said to myself, how do we get it through the House of Representatives? And what I saw was, we're going to get this through the Senate, and we're going to get so many votes--and indeed, they got 68 votes--it's going to be so overwhelming that the House Republicans are just going to collapse in their opposition. I said: "Are you kidding? They're not going to collapse. They're going to be even more defiant." And that's exactly what we got.

What we got was a stalemate, because we got it through the Senate. It was a beautiful version of comprehensive immigration reform, but it was a version that left--let's be clear--3 million people out. So of the 11 million, even as good as the Senate version was, 3 million people had no pathway to anything, to legalization, to nothing. So, from my point of view I said, "How do we stop the deportations?" I said, "We have to have immigration reform, and we have to sit down with the majority and have a conversation."

I thought there was a path forward in the House, still believe today there was a path forward if we would have given the participants in crafting a bill in the House the kind of support and nurturing that they needed, and on this I'm speaking both about Republicans and Democrats. They pulled away from both of us. Eventually they pulled away from both of us. So, as I recall it--

Hold on one second. Let's take it step by step. When you were saying a second ago that Obama basically was telling you, "All right, we're going to get it through the Senate; we have so many votes," that was really Obama's voice telling you.

That was Obama. Obama's strategy was get it through the Senate, pass it with such an overwhelmingly convincing number of votes, with large, relatively large Republican support, in a true bipartisan manner, that the House will just say, "We have no choice but to agree." That's not the way it works here. The Republicans are in the majority. They are ever more xenophobic, they are ever more strident when it comes to the issue of immigration, and you have 35, 40 of them that will say, "We'll vote the Republican Party if you do anything on immigration."

But you go into the gym, the House gym, and Paul Ryan is there, very optimistically. Tell me that story.

It's November, a couple of weeks after the elections of November of 2012. Barack Obama has won the presidency, and I see Paul Ryan in the gym, and I greet him. Many people watching this might not think of it as much of a greeting, but really, if you're friends you can greet one another. So I said, "Hey, Paul, I did everything I could to stop you from becoming vice president of the United States." I said it with a smile. And he turned around: "And I made sure you're in the minority in the House of Representatives, did everything I could to make sure of that." And then we have a friendship, so we said that to one another--and if you air this part he is going to get a lot of nasty calls--"See, there is Luis Gutierrez again saying he is your best friend."

Then he said: "... I've got to tell you I don't want to do it because it's the politically expedient thing to do ... I want to do it because it's the right thing to do." And I remember--there are times when people tell you stuff that you just remember, and he said, "I am Catholic, and my religious beliefs, my convictions do not allow me to continue to have a permanent underclass of people that are exploited in America." And I said to myself, wow, I can work with this guy.

Remember, in 2004--because a lot of people forget that is a very important moment--Sen. [John] McCain, Sen. [Ted] Kennedy introduced a bill in the Senate; I introduced a bill here with Republicans in the House. It's the first bipartisan, bicameral bill that is comprehensive, and it forms the basis of the ongoing conversations in 2007 vote and even in the 2012 [vote]. Paul Ryan was an original sponsor of the 2004 comprehensive immigration bill, so it wasn't as though ... this relationship was somehow new. It is at least eight years old.

It just shocked me, because I thought at that moment when he said that to me, I thought, wow, if President Barack Obama saw it as a fundamental issue of morals, of morality, could he have deported 2 million people? ... So I thought, there is hope here. And so we began working. I remember turning around to Paul and saying, "You know, Paul, I'm going to have a conversation with city leaders in Chicago, and it would be really good if you could find me a Republican who would be ready to stand with me in Chicago." And I still remember his response. His response was: "Why do I need to find you somebody? I'm 90 minutes away from your congressional district. I'll just drive down and stand with you." And I thought, wow.

Not only is he saying to me in the gym four months later [that] he and I would stand together in Chicago, the week after the bombings of the Boston Marathon, which really made the issue even more heightened in the American public's awareness of the issue, and he went there to say, "I'm for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented."

There is a period of time in 2013 where it's going--why the stalemate in moving forward before the closing down of Congress?

In retrospect, I don't believe that the White House, that the Democratic Party, that the Democratic leadership at any level really wanted Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Luis Gutierrez and those of us charged--there is a Gang of Eight in the House of Representatives; Nancy Pelosi appoints four; Boehner appoints four--and we're to begin to craft a House version of comprehensive immigration bill, and I've got to tell you it works really well. We're sitting down; we're discussing. There is a little bourbon; everybody is bringing food. One day it's Mexican food; the next day it's cheeseburgers, pizza; it's barbecue. Everybody is kind of bringing food without there really being a tally, right, about whose responsibility it is. It's almost like there is this new fraternity, and the eight of us are part of this new [fraternity], and we're just getting together.

I knew we could be successful when we stopped accusing each other, when it wasn't like my tribe and your tribe and you have been bad to the people.... There weren't these accusations. There were these conversations. And I could tell because I started listening. I started listening, and I started saying to myself, don't be judgmental. And interestingly, we were all doing the same thing, so it wasn't unique to me.

But then?

But then what happens is that, I have to say that the issue of--I remember it was the issue of health care comes back. and it's like, "Who is going to pay for the health care of the undocumented?" And I'm kind of like, "Well, that's not a problem, because as a Democrat they already took it off the table in the Senate version, so we're not going to stand here on some principle, because we have already given that, and the president said three years, four years prior, those undocumented--he called them illegals--aren't going to get anything." But the very issue, right, that Barack Obama in 2010 said wasn't going to be an issue when he wanted to pass health care reform, and which in the Senate version was completely eliminated--that is health care--we're going to make it an issue in the House with the Republicans. I thought there were so many.

I have to tell you, Zoe Lofgren--she is a great lawyer, she is a great American, and I'm so happy she ... is our leader on the Judiciary [Committee] on immigration, because she just crafted language to avoid the problem. But it never was enough, because it always had to be run by the Democratic leadership, and once you have to run it by the Democratic leadership--remember, the purpose--I think what the public has to remember, the plan was you're going to buy the Senate version, and any other version is not what we want to see come out of this, to the point when the Gang of Eight in the House collapses, and our collaboration collapses, the first thing House Democrats do is adopt the Senate version as their version of immigration reform. And I'm like, "OK, so you just basically said you don't want to do immigration reform, because the Republicans have been very clear."

We continue to work. I continue to work with--

Let me ask you this before--

Sure.

So then there is a period of time where [Ted] Cruz gets up in the Senate, and he does his stuff, and then a poison pill is added to the budget bill, and lo and behold, the lights go on.

I didn't turn them on. I didn't do it.

Lo and behold, the Republican House members push toward closing down the government. Things blow up. Boehner sort of goes with it and says, "OK, I'm going to teach you guys a lesson," the way the story is told. ... When there is a turn after the government is shut down, how do we end up coming back to the point where by June of 2014 it's looking good? It's supposedly 140 votes, Republican votes that are going to go forward. Just take me through that time period of you guys come back together, why it happens.

Understand that at the beginning of our conversations with the Republicans in the House in 2013, while we are crafting our House version, it has become very clear to me and to most political observers that the House will not adopt a bill, regardless of what consensus is built, until after the difficult Republican primaries, which are going to happen in 2014. So sometime in May or June we can craft a bill, but it's really not going to have any motion until--that way people can support the bill without having to confront it in their Republican primary.

I am not surprised that the conversations continue even after the House gets shut down, because in terms of time there is still months. There is six, seven months that I knew we would never get around to having a vote on a bill. What happens is Boehner continues; as a matter of fact, Boehner hires very talented people at the very collapse of our conversations--so in the House of Representatives, there is a collapse. There is a bipartisan collapse around crafting a bill around bipartisan immigration reform, but at the same time, immediately thereafter, the Republican leadership hires some very good people to continue to work, and behind the scenes we continue to work on crafting a bill.

I continue to work with my Republican colleagues, saying, "Please move forward," because for me and for those that understand this process, my goal was to get us to a conference; that is, pass the best bill we can in the House of Representatives and now negotiate with the Senate. And I figure, "Well, then we're going to be in a strong position, because they have such a strong bill, and we're going to come up and reach a consensus." You know, it's like consensus in American politics is a sin. It's like this terrible thing. You [are a] unprincipled, unworthy public servant that you would sit down with other people and reach some kind of consensus where they get some of what they want and believe, in principle, should be in a bill, and you get what you want and believe in principle should be in a bill. But people always saw it as a political problem.

The reason I say this is in 2012, when Barack Obama ... is running for re-election, he is under enormous pressure because of the level of the deportation, and he didn't keep his promise, and he is called "deporter in chief," they come down from the White House, because Sen. Rubio, Marco Rubio, is drafting a bill, is crafting a bill that would give the Dreamers, that is those that came as children to the United States, legalization. He would give them legalization without citizenship, but he would legalize their status, and they would no longer have to fear deportation. So here are the Republicans coming with a bill. Barack Obama has nothing to show, and the Republicans are saying, "We're going to present a bill to legalize the youth, the immigrant youth." And the White House comes down to see me and says, "We have a Rubio problem." I said, "What's our Rubio problem?" He is drafting a bill, but it doesn't give citizenship. I turned around; I said: "But you guys are like the deporters in chief. What do you stand on?" I said: "I will stand with Rubio, because you don't have a Rubio problem. What we have is a deportation problem. You see it as a political problem; I see it as a deportation problem in which human beings and their families are being crushed and destroyed, and you see it as a political problem."

Well, at that point, I felt very confident that the president was going to use his executive authority, and indeed he did, and crushed any ability for Rubio or anyone to come up with a bill, because he basically did everything Rubio would have done through an executive order, and that is stop the deportation of our youth. ... I was writing an autobiography, and I was going around New York, talking to the different publishing houses, and I remember one woman at one of the publishing houses saying to me, "Tell the president we need a down payment, a little something." And I thought to myself, you know what? The Dreamers are going to be the down payment. It's going to be that little something.

And indeed, if you go to Charlotte at the convention, prime time, [there are] undocumented youth speaking to the nation. That shows you the power of our immigrant community and how Barack Obama needed to respond.

By 2014, June 2014, though--

I'm sorry I went back.

Oh, it's always a good story. You guys, the Gang of Eight is seeing that there are probably about 140 Republicans in support. Boehner starts making some moves. Advertisement is getting to f be worked up. Tell me just about that optimism. You know what we're leading to.

There is a lot of optimism in the Republican Caucus with the people I'm talking with and negotiating with, and we're crafting bills that are going to allow the undocumented to come out of the shadows, that don't block their pathway to citizenship. I'm not going to sit here today and tell you there was a clear, marked pathway to citizenship for all the 11 million, but remember one part from the promise: "You have left 3 million behind, so don't come with perfection to me. I'm going to get as many as I can." And we craft a bill that would allow between 7 and 8 million of the 11 million a pathway to legalization in a very broad, very humanistic form, and would allow millions of them a pathway pretty quickly to citizenship, and all of them a pathway to citizenship eventually.

I said, "OK, we have got this marker that we haven't blocked citizenship for anyone, and millions will get it." And I said, "In a decade, wow, we will have dealt with this problem." So there is a lot of enthusiasm. What the Republicans do is that they have this Hastert Rule, and the Hastert Rule says that before you can move forward, a majority of the majority--that is, of the 250 Republicans, a majority of them first have to agree that something is going to be moved forward. And I kept saying to myself, well, that's not a very democratic fashion in which to do things, when you have 435 members, and 130 have to agree on something before the other 300 can get involved." Anyway, but that was their thing, the Hastert Rule. So they went about meeting the threshold of the Hastert Rule, and it wasn't as though they were getting Republicans to vote for a bill; they were getting Republicans to acquiesce, to accept, to commit not to obstruct, to say, "You can move forward." Support wasn't necessarily for a bill, but they were going to get a majority of Republicans to say, "We will move forward on immigration reform."

I was very excited about the prospects, and then we had a primary in Virginia. Was it June?

June.

There is a primary. It's June, and Cantor is the majority leader of the Republicans, and that morning I talk to top Republican staff members and top Republican legislators, and I said: "Do we get the green light? Cantor is the last of the primaries we have to worry about on your side of the aisle, on the Republican side of the aisle." And they said: "Everything is going well. Tomorrow morning we'll speak with Boehner, the speaker. We will speak with Boehner tomorrow." And I kind of cavalierly asked: "Is everything OK? We don't have a problem, do we?" And they said, "Oh, no, no, it's not a problem. Cantor is going to win by a good margin tonight." Well, Cantor didn't win, and that ended. It had it all collapse.

I always believed that Cantor would assume the speakership, that he would make this an issue and move forward, but it didn't happen. Once that didn't happen, it just, from a political point of view, it was like, "We told you that--"

Here was the argument: Cantor lost because Cantor was for immigration reform, because Cantor cozied up to the likes of Luis Gutierrez and others and to the Dreamers particularly, and once he did that, see how it opened him up to defeat. The Republicans don't want immigration reform, and Cantor is our best example. And he is so high up, the majority leader, it becomes impossible to have a counternarrative to that.

The conversations end, and the pressure [is] on Barack Obama now, because Barack Obama is like, "I believe." Barack Obama always believed he could reach a deal and make a deal with Boehner, always believed that, so even though the Senate was being stalled, he would take no action that might undermine his relationship with Boehner and have the House just walk away from immigration reform. We told him: "Mr. President, they have walked away. Cantor has lost. They have walked away. It is time for you now to stop these massive deportations." Basically we have told him: "You have made your point that you're an enforcer of the law. We don't need to make that; you don't need to make that point anymore. Use your executive authority, and expand on the use of your executive authority to protect the millions of undocumented families." We particularly talked to him about the millions of American citizen children whose parents are undocumented. We made a plea to the president to use his executive authority to protect those American citizen children from losing their moms and dads, because Republicans would not come to the table on immigration reform.

And he moves.

He does, but he doesn't move real quickly. If you recall, then all of a sudden, politics again. "Oh," they said. "Well, yeah, we want the president to act and use his executive authority, but can we wait until after the November elections, because we have some Democrats that if he acts will lose their elections to the Senate? So we have to--" Now the Senate is at risk, because of course immigration is going to put the Senate at risk. Nothing else is going to put the Senate at risk; we're going to put the Senate at risk, and the senators are going to lose. So if the president uses his executive authority in July, that will mean in November we will lose the Senate because he helped the immigrants, and they will use that anti-immigrant, xenophobic fervor that they can only create in the Republican Party to deny us a majority in the Senate.

Well, the senators lost anyway. Barack Obama didn't take the action; the senators lost anyway. At least they can't blame the poor immigrants for losing the Senate that year.

But he does act eventually.

He does. After the November election, two weeks later he does act. He acts in ... I would say the broadest, most genuine, humane, generous fashion that I believe he could act in. Now, there are others that will dispute that, but Barack Obama through his executive authority freed from potential deportation more than 5 million people through an executive authority. That is a huge number of people, and it provided for the pro-immigrant movement in this country, a sense of, if you keep crushing a movement, and you keep telling them no, and you keep turning your back on them, especially when they consider you their friend and their ally, that movement becomes doubtful about itself. This was also a great thing for the movement. Great, we stood together; we fought the president; he is on our side; we're moving forward.

But executive action in the long run has a problem with the courts.

Right. If I had it to do all over again, I would have immediately got a group of lawyers, I would have gone to California, I would have gone to New York, I would have gone to Illinois, I would have sued myself. I would have got a judge to say: "It's perfectly good, Luis. I don't know why you're suing." And we would have moved forward. Instead, we let 26 Republican attorney generals [sic] from across the country come together, sue the president, and cherry-pick the jurisdiction. So what judge did they find? A judge that had already opined that Barack Obama was using unconstitutional measures to act and who had been clearly anti-immigrant. That's the judge they found, someone who had already clearly showed bias to the immigrant community and any executive authority that the president wanted to exercise. That's the one they found.

So they went down to South Texas and found themselves one of their good old boys and got him [in on the] act, and that was really the end of it. Yes, it went to the Supreme Court, but it hasn't been proven unconstitutional. Every time I hear a right-wing person on TV or radio say that Hillary Clinton is going to do these unconstitutional executive authority [actions] of Barack Obama, is going to institute or bring them about, I go: "It's not unconstitutional. Four to four, it was a tie." It would only be unconstitutional once the next Supreme Court justice is appointed and there is a majority vote.

A couple of stories I need. So you make a speech on the floor, and basically, a lot of people say [it] was the death knell. Explain that moment on the floor, what you said, what you were feeling.

Are we going back to June/July?

Yeah, after Cantor.

I go on the House floor, and I get a clock, and we start saying, "Time is ticking for you to act, because if you don't act, the president will." Now, we started this clock before Cantor's defeat, so I go to the House floor, and I say, "It's time for you to act, because I have looked into the president's eyes, and I'm going to tell you, he is going to use his executive authority to free millions of people." And that was in the summer, six months before, seven months before the president used his [executive authority]. Why? Because I go and visit with Barack Obama, and it is clear to me that we're on the same page, that whatever divisions we have had on a policy or priorities have clearly shifted their way toward the immigrant community.

And a lot of questions get asked of me: "Well, what is going to be Barack Obama's legacy when it's all over?" And I say, "This is going to be his legacy: 5 million people." They say, "Well, what about the 2 million?" "This will be the legacy, the 5 million people." And I do believe that President Barack Obama also understood it that way, that notwithstanding the fact that he didn't keep his promise in the first four years, notwithstanding the 2 million deportations, notwithstanding the protests, notwithstanding all of the problems that he has had with the immigrant community and how immigrants and Latinos and the progressive movement sees him vis-à-vis the immigrant policy issue, that is all going to be wiped away, because there is 5 million people getting signed up by the government, basically 5 million undocumented people getting signed up by the government to legalize their status.

But in the end it's a failure.

And in fact in the end it's dead. It's dead. It's a four-to-four vote on it in the Supreme Court, which means it's a tie, which means nothing happens, which means you've got to send it back to that judge in southern Texas which was chosen by the 26 Republican attorney generals [sic] to kill the president's authority. So they won again. It was a particularly hard day for many of us, because we finally got our team together, and we couldn't get it past the Supreme Court. They used the legal system very adroitly to stop any measure of justice and fairness for our immigrant community. Yeah, that's what happened.

What happens is Boehner basically, the leadership was trying to push forward, and there is the whole Freedom Caucus that comes through in the '14 elections. '15 starts it up. There is a battle royale that goes on. After Cantor loses, Boehner is thrown out. Immigration is dead, dead, dead, dead.

It's not going anywhere.

And you've got this individual from New York, an entrepreneur by the name of Donald Trump, who takes up the immigration issue as something that he sees to some extent he can run on. What has happened to the Republican Party? How do we end up with Trump from this divide that takes place within the Republican Party? From your perspective, how do we go from a point where the House is about to go forward, and then it all sort of blows up to a point where the Republican standard-bearer is screaming and shouting about a wall and immigrants that are rapists and murderers? From your point of view, what happened to the Republican Party? Did they box themselves in? What happened?

They spent many years--you reap what you sow, and nothing, none of the expressions of Donald Trump around immigrants is new, none. He simply took them all, every expression and every variation of xenophobia that had been articulated by the Republican Party, and he put them all in one, and he made it a top priority in his campaign. That's what he has done. But none of his expressions, none of these ideological musings that he has about immigrants, none of this anti-Mexican and anti-Latino and anti-immigrant fervor is new. They have said this thing on repeated occasions, and they're either going to stand up to that part of their party, or that part of their party is going to eventually win.

So we saw it. Remember in 2012, Mitt Romney, who was their decent candidate to the presidency, even he caved in to them. He went and said: "Well, guess what? We're just going to make it so impossible for the immigrants in the United States that are undocumented that they will leave," right? Then ... I remember right after the Republican Convention, Mitt Romney, where does he go? He goes to Iowa. Who does he go to Iowa with? Congressman [Steve] King, Mr. Xenophobia Incarnate in the House of Representatives.

Look, they understood this in 2012, and they never prescribed some kind of regimen to their party that was going to cure them of this illness, and it is for the Republican Party an illness. They use xenophobia, they use anti-immigrant fervor to have a majority in the House of Representatives, and they use it all of the time. And there is no punishing anybody in the Republican Party for using it. So after 2012 they said: "Well, this definitely was the death knell, one of the death knells, and we're in fear of losing our franchise as a national party, because Latinos keep growing and the immigrant community. We need to stop this." Because let's remember, in 2004, President Bush got 42, 43 percent of the Latino vote. Now they're getting crushed 3-to-1, some places 4-to-1. Let's remember, when they're getting crushed 3-to-1, there are some places that they're getting crushed 5- and 6-to-1, some states in the Electoral College, and since you win the presidency not by who gets the most votes but who wins the Electoral College, they're saying to themselves, wow, we--

When you take New York, Illinois and California off the electoral map for Republicans, and then here comes Florida, right, and here comes Colorado, and here comes Arizona, and eventually here comes Texas, look, 1 million Latinos turn 18 every year, and there is nothing you can do about it legislatively, because they're all American citizens turning 18. It's like there is this population growth that you see, and what you're saying to every one of those young Latinos that turn 18 is: "We don't want you. We don't care about you. As a matter of fact, we think you're drug dealers; we think you're criminals; we think you're murderers. We think you're bad people, and we think we should round you all up," because I know for a lot of the American public, they say, "Well, he was only talking about the Mexicans." Well, let me tell you, Mexican is the new word for Latino when it comes from the political right, because I assure you that my parents who came to this country from Puerto Rico, people on the street don't distinguish between Luis Gutierrez, the son of Puerto Rican parents, or Mexican parents. They see me as another Latino in this country. And Latinos feel insulted when he says that, both because of the solidarity they feel with other Latinos and because it is almost as though the Republican Party believes that somehow the immigrant community lives in this caste society, where the undocumented go to church here and they go to school here and they work here, and the rest of us that are citizens of the United States live in this other parallel universe. No. We all go to the same churches. We all go to work together. Our kids go to school together. We play in the same parks. We are part of one integral community, so when you attack one part of us you attack the whole of us, and that is the response that the Republican Party is going to continue to get as long as they maintain the xenophobia.

I keep saying to Republicans: "Stop worrying about the 11 million undocumented, of which 6 to 7 million are Latinos. Stop worrying. You know who you should worry about? The 46 million of us that are American citizens of this country, because when you insult, when you demonize and you jeopardize their safety in this country and their ability to one day reach some sense of equality in this country, we are all offended."