STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The calendar here says it is Monday, March 5, the date by which many members of Congress promised action on DACA - that's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Obama's move to protect people brought to the U.S. as children who are now in the country illegally. President Trump declared this to be the day when DACA would end but insisted Congress should fix it.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We get the reputation like DACA - it's not Republican. Well, let me tell you it is Republican because we want to do something about DACA, get it solved after all these years. The Democrats are being totally unresponsive. They don't want to do anything about DACA.
INSKEEP: Well, Congress didn't do anything. In any case, the President himself rejected one deal. And courts have temporarily preserved DACA protections anyway. We're joined now by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, who's been intensely involved in this issue. Congressman, good morning.
LUIS GUTIERREZ: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Does it matter that you missed the deadline?
GUTIERREZ: It always matters when you miss a deadline, especially for 700,000 young people. But here's the upside - you know, this administration said we've got to get into court right away because this is illegal, this is wrong, this is unconstitutional, the court's going to overturn it, so let's go in and eliminate the program before the court overturns it. Voila - the court didn't overturn it. As a matter of fact, two courts have said calm down, you know, tape it down because we have serious questions about how it is you are proceeding to eliminate this program, and in the interim period, everybody gets to apply and stay in status.
INSKEEP: Which means that people are protected for the moment, although...
GUTIERREZ: Yes, they are.
INSKEEP: ...The future is still uncertain for them, of course.
GUTIERREZ: Yes, they are.
INSKEEP: Do you believe it was a mistake for the Democratic leaders in Congress - Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer - to try to make a deal with President Trump on this?
GUTIERREZ: No, I don't think it was a mistake. I think the mistake was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States because we have someone who can't keep his words. You can spend the next 10 minutes and your audience can hear all of the wonderful things that Donald Trump has said about the DREAMers and how he was going to fix the situation. Look, here's the basic thing. They said they wanted border security. My God, in the Senate, they appropriated $25 billion - that's $2 1/2 billion - for this stupid fence, this fence that's offensive, this fence that is unnecessary. But that was the ransom that was demanded.
And what did Donald Trump say? His signature campaign promise? No. Because what they want to do - please understand. This is more than DREAMers. This is about changing our immigration system as we know it. They want to eliminate categories so that families can no longer be united in the United States of America...
INSKEEP: This was - this, of course, was a big part of the...
GUTIERREZ: They want to fundamentally change our immigration system.
INSKEEP: This, of course, was a big part of the debate is the other provisions...
GUTIERREZ: And unless you do that, they are not going to do anything for the DREAMERS.
INSKEEP: ...Beside the DREAMers. If I can just ask...
INSKEEP: ...Just because our time is a bit short - you, the other day, when talking about this, refer to, quote, "racists who are driving immigration policy inside the White House." When you use that word racist, do you include the president among the racists?
GUTIERREZ: If this president is not racist, then I don't know who is. And Stephen Miller - look, all you have to do is look at all of the categories of people that they want to eliminate. And guess what. All of them are from countries of color coming to the United States of America. And those are the categories they want to eliminate, but guess who they do want according to the president. People from Norway. When they talk about people who speak English coming to the United States of America, people highly educated coming to the United States of America, and at the same time say we're going to eliminate all of the categories of people who are coming from Latin America, Asia and Africa, I think two plus two is four, and that makes a racist policy.
INSKEEP: Congressman, I want to ask this as the 2018 election approaches. You probably know very well that some Latinos blamed President Obama who spoke up for people in the country illegally, but they blamed President Obama for not doing more, not finding some way to get them to permanent legal status. Should Latino voters be discouraged at this point, that once again neither party - neither Republicans nor Democrats - has delivered for people who are their, in many cases, friends and relations?
GUTIERREZ: Here's what I will say. I'm very proud of my caucus, OK, and I didn't always say that about the Democratic caucus, but they stood in there. Right now, there are 193 Democrats signed up for the DREAM Act. And if Paul Ryan gave us a vote, not only with those 193 vote for the DREAM Act, we'd get 40 or 50 and it'd be done.
INSKEEP: Oh, 40 or 50 Republicans you think.
GUTIERREZ: Yes, 40, 50 Republicans, and we'd get this done. Here's what's happening in the Congress of the United States - the glue that holds the Democratic - the Republican caucus together in the House of Representatives is being anti-immigrant, and that - but guess what. Elections are coming up November 2018, and I intend to make sure that we take the kinds of actions to break up that glue.
INSKEEP: Congressman Luis Gutierrez of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Democrat of Illinois, thanks very much.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.