About a week ago, I announced that I would not run for Mayor of Chicago so that I could devote my full time and attention to my vocation: fighting for immigration reform in the U.S. Congress. My decision not to run was a difficult one. Being Mayor of Chicago — the city of my birth, my children’s birth, and my grandchild’s birth — has been a life-long dream. But after consultations with my family, friends, and advisors, and conversations with constituents in the Fourth District, I decided that while there are a number of good people who could lead the City of Chicago, there are fewer people willing to lead the U.S. towards a rational immigration policy.
The next big battle in that fight is the midterm election for which voting has already begun in some places and which continues through November 2. I just completed another trip to Nevada to campaign for Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats and I have made campaign stops in Orlando, Miami, and Cleveland and I have additional campaign trips scheduled before Election Day. In between, I have been doing my best to make sure as many people as possible in the City of Chicago vote this November, as well.
Voting is the only way to maintain our momentum on immigration reform and to keep the pressure on both political parties. How this election unfolds — and perhaps more importantly, how it is spun by the punditry — determines whether we get sensible immigration reform quickly or have to wait several more years.
Republicans are making a pretty straightforward wager. They are betting that if they run ads that show menacing looking Latino men, they can scare people into voting Republican. Ads airing by GOP candidates in Nevada and Louisiana are the most explicitly race-baiting ads in American politics in a decade. Even Pete Wilson and Jessie Helms were more subtle in their day. The scary brown-people motif in English ads is being combined with ads in Spanish actually encouraging people not to vote at all.
What is at stake is clear: the future of our immigration system and the welcome that immigrants and Latinos feel in this country. Will we have a system that encourages orderliness, legality, assimilation and basic rights or will we continue to maintain the current system of arbitrary restrictions, limited legality, unfair competition, diminished rights, and massive deportation?
On immigration, the question is not whether you are a Pelosi-Obama Democrat, but whether you are a Lamar Smith-John Boehner-Steve King Republican. When it comes down to it, putting people like Smith-Boehner-King at the helm of national immigration policy is a guarantee of more gridlock and chaos. Rep. Steve King of Iowa — who makes Jim Sensenbrenner look like Dolores Huerta by comparison — has called for electrified fencing on the border because he has found it effective for controlling “livestock.” And if the recent past is any indication, we can expect any number of anti-Latino voter intimidation dirty tricks in the coming weeks in addition to the ads telling Latinos not to vote. We need to make it crystal clear to voters who favor a fair and humane immigration system that a vote for any GOP House or Senate candidate is a vote for the status quo on immigration or worse.
Latino voters, immigrants, Asian-Americans, younger people, pro-union and pro-faith voters — and anyone who cares about civil rights, human rights, and labor rights — have a duty to vote this November on behalf of those who do not have the right to vote and who, if the GOP takes over, may not be able to for many, many years to come.
Luis V. Gutierrez is a Democrat who represents the Fourth District of Illinois in Chicago and has done so since he was first elected to the House in 1992. He is the Chairman of the House Financial Services Sub-Committee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit and is also Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Immigration Reform. He is the principal author of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR-ASAP, H.R. 4321), a bill with 103 co-sponsors introduced by Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) in December 2009 that has the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.