A bipartisan immigration bill like the one Congress narrowly rejected under former President George W. Bush could become law before the 2012 elections, said a key member of the Bush team that nearly pulled it off in 2006.
“I think it comes down to political will, priorities and whether this is something that the administration and Congress really want to get into for the next six, seven months. Because it takes that long,” former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV. “This is a very complex issue. And you’ll recall that in 2006 under President Bush we got very, very close. So, yes, I believe it can be done.”
President Barack Obama first has to declare what he wants from immigration reform.
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“I can’t tell you what the administration’s policy is,” said Gutierrez, 57, a Havana native whose family fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1960. “I haven’t heard them come forward with a plan that doesn’t just look at one aspect of [reform] but looks at the whole thing.”
Gutierrez, who helped run point on the Bush immigration bill from his post at Commerce, sat down with Newsmax TV at the first annual Hispanic Leadership Network Conference in Miami, where Republicans gathered January 13 and 14 to discuss how to connect with the fastest-growing part of the U.S. electorate. Gutierrez co-chaired the conference with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"We believe that there are so many overlapping principles between the center-right movement and the Hispanic-American community, more so than we can imagine,” Gutierrez said.
He acknowledged that immigration is a defining issue for Hispanics -- who went against the tide by mostly voting for Democrats in the November midterm elections that swept Republicans back into the House majority.
He did not suggest his party has lost Hispanics over Republicans’ more stringent positions on immigration. Some GOPers want to overturn the Constitution’s guarantee of automatic birthright citizenship and they support Arizona’s controversial new identity law allowing police to detain suspected immigrants on sight and demand proof of documentation.
Gutierrez said some Hispanic Americans “believe that they’re sort of being played” by Democrats.
“[Hispanic Americans] hear a lot of things. They hear a lot of rhetoric. But in the end the only thing that counts is results. And the result is that we have not had any kind of immigration reform, not even when Democrats had the White House, the House and the Senate,” he said.
An estimated 12 million illegal aliens live in the United States and more come every day, primarily from Latin America, looking for jobs.
Gutierrez didn’t address which party, if either, would get political credit from Hispanics for fixing what he called a “dysfunctional” immigration system. But he said states including Arizona will have a major role to play in enforcing national reform, once it’s adopted -- the sooner the better.
“We can’t just continue to ignore it,” he said. “Because today it’s 12 [million]. It’ll be 15.”
Gutierrez, a former Kellogg CEO and now a vice chairman at Citigroup, described immigration reform as a key to continued American prosperity: “If we all believe in progress and employment and investment then we should also believe in immigration because there can’t be growth and progress without immigration."
“Within that,” he added, “we have to answer the question, what do we do about the 12 million? ... It’s not giving them a passport but it’s not rounding them up and kicking them out with children and families who have been here for a long time. There’s somewhere in between where we can get this right.”
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