In stark contrast to prior Obama administration statements, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez told The Daily Caller that he and the National Council of La Raza were deeply involved in the crafting and implementation of a controversial Obama administration memo that many conservatives believe amounts to a policy of amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.
President Obama, Gutierrez said, told him in December 2010 that comprehensive immigration reform could not be achieved legislatively because of fears Democrats would lose future elections. Instead, he said, the president suggested exploring administrative options to accomplish their mutual goals. (RELATED: White House loosens border rules for 2012)
The memo, written by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton in June 2011, established priorities for tracking and removing suspected illegal aliens. It directed his agency to focus only on illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national security and endanger public safety.
ICE, Morton wrote, would provide no resources to tracking other illegal immigrants now and in the future — extending them a sort of administrative amnesty, and removing all threat of deportation, unless they committed a serious crime.
Since a controversy arose over the memo last summer, the administration and ICE have insisted it was written by career ICE professionals in response to logistic realities on the ground. But speaking at Lincoln United Methodist Church on May 6 in Chicago, Gutierrez told a group of his constituents that he personally drafted the memo’s precursor for the White House.
“The president of the United States said to me and to others, ‘I can’t get anything legislatively done in the Congress of the United States, so let’s begin to look at avenues that present themselves where we can use administrative action,’” the congressman told his audience.
Listen to Gutierrez:
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Gutierrez, speaking exclusively with The Daily Caller following that event, said Obama’s declaration motivated him to draft a plan of action for the White House.
“I begin to write a ‘prosecutorial discretion’ memorandum,” Gutierrez said. “We take that prosecutorial discretion memorandum and take it to the White House. We meet with Bill Daley. Then we take it to the president.”
Morton’s ICE memo was published in June 2011. Gutierrez spokesperson Douglas Rivlin told TheDC that it was similar to the one Gutierrez prepared for Obama.
“The memo written by ICE Director John Morton released in June 2011 contained some of these same ideas for using existing law to prioritize deportation for serious criminals, and to administratively close deportation cases for some people with deep roots in the U.S. and no criminal history,” Rivlin said.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen, in a carefully worded statement, said that the administration never shared any of its own files with Gutierrez or any other congressman. She maintained that Morton’s memo was written purely for professional reasons.
“ICE does not share deliberative or pre-decisional materials with Congress,” Christensen told TheDC.
“The June 2011 prosecutorial discretion memo was authored and issued by ICE and was designed to help ICE law enforcement personnel and attorneys better focus on meeting the priorities of the agency to use its limited resources to target criminals and those that put public safety at risk.”
Gutierrez also credited a liberal immigration advocacy group with keeping Obama in line when the time came to enforce the memo. Gutierrez described an interaction between the president and La Raza members at the group’s national convention in July 2011.
“Their [La Raza’s] affiliates all came in and there was a luncheon. The president came in and said, ‘I’d like to do something, but I can’t.”
“All 2,000,” Gutierrez recounted, “said, ‘Yes, you can.’”
La Raza spokeswoman Clarissa Martinez said that at the time of the conference, her group’s members were frustrated because they believed the Morton memo would have little practical effect.
Nearly a year later, both Gutierrez and Martinez said that while they were satisfied with the memo itself, they expect the Obama administration to do more to enforce it. They continue to advocate for more proactive administrative actions to extend legal status to immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.
If the White House followed the Morton memo more closely, they both insisted independently to TheDC, many more suspected illegal immigrants currently in the immigration system would effectively receive amnesty.
Gutierrez added that the White House could move proactively to provide legal residency to millions currently living in the U.S. illegally through a tool called “parole in place” — a discretionary immigration initiative that can legalize illegal aliens on a case-by-case basis.
“Here’s your rules and regulations,” Gutierrez told TheDC he would like to tell the Obama administration. “We don’t think you’re applying them fairly.”
Gutierrez has been highlighting the case of Gabino Sanchez from Charlotte, N.C. Sanchez, now 24 years old, came to the United States with his parents when he was 14, illegally crossing the border with them. Sanchez is married, with children, and a home.
He has been stopped and fined six times for driving without a license in the U.S. The first five times, he said, local police allowed Sanchez to pay a fine and released him. But on the sixth occasion, ICE flagged him upon arrest. He’s now facing a May 15 hearing in Charlotte, part of a process that could lead to his deportation.
Gutierrez believes that this case is a perfect example of one that deserves administrative relief.
“We want them to live by the spirit of the memorandum,” he said.