Luis Gutierrez was born in Chicago on December 10, 1953, to parents of Puerto Rican ancestry. After graduating with an English degree from Northeastern Illinois University in 1977, he spent approximately seven years working variously as a cab driver, schoolteacher, community activist, and social worker.
From 1984-86 Gutierrez, a Democrat, served as an advisor to Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago. In 1986 Gutierrez was elected alderman of that city’s mostly-Hispanic 26th Ward. At the time, he was a member of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, a Marxist-Leninist entity.
In 1992 Gutierrez won a seat in the U.S. Congress, representing the newly formed Fourth District of Illinois. Gerrymandered from neighborhoods and suburbs west of downtown Chicago, this bizarrely shaped, 75-percent-Latino district was designed by Democrats not only to guarantee that the area would have a Latino Representative in Congress, but also to concentrate so many Latinos into a single district that they would pose little threat of unseating any black Democrat in the vicinity. Gutierrez was subsequently re-elected every two years to the House of Representatives, where he was a member of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, until he retired in January 2019. His political campaigns drew significant support from the Democratic Socialists of America.
In the mid-1990s, Gutierrez developed close ties to the pro-socialist New Party in Chicago. In 1995-96 he was a board of directors member of Illinois Public Action, the state’s largest public-interest organization, along with such notables as Robert Creamer, Lane Evans, Alice Palmer, Jan Schakowsky, and Quentin Young. And in 1997 Gutierrez served on the board of Citizen Action of Illinois.
In 1999 Gutierrez collaborated with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus members Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez to pressure President Bill Clinton (through Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder) to free 16 convicted terrorists belonging to the FALN, a Marxist-Leninist paramilitary organization that had carried out 146 bombings during a 25-year period, killing 9 people while injuring and maiming dozens of others. Indeed, Gutierrez was the FALN’s chief spokesman and advocate during the campaign to release its incarcerated members. As attorney Deborah Burlingame wrote in 2013: “Rep. Gutierrez, against all evidence, including FBI undercover videotapes of these people making bombs, called them political prisoners and threatened to marshal the Puerto Rican community against the Clintons [and] Vice President [Al] Gore, [who was] then preparing a presidential run as well.” For additional details about the FALN case and the Clinton pardons, click here.
During his years in Congress, Gutierrez cultivated a reputation as the Democratic Party’s leading strategist and spokesperson on immigration issues, and was at the forefront of the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In 2001 he became the first elected official to sponsor a version of the DREAM Act—legislation designed to create a path-to-citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors.
A proponent of Puerto Rican independence, Gutierrez in 2001 was arrested on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of the island for military training exercises.
In 2004 Gutierrez was a guest speaker at a “Take Back America” conference organized by the Campaign for America’s Future, an organization dominated by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Institute for Policy Studies.
In 2005 Gutierrez joined the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
In 2008 Gutierrez was appointed to the National Latino Advisory Council of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign, along with such notables as Xavier Becerra, Henry Cisneros, Raul Grijalva, Eliseo Medina, Linda Sanchez, Hilda Solis, and Nydia Velazquez.
The following year, Gutierrez co-sponsored the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act, a bill to create a pathway-to-citizenship for non-criminal illegal immigrants. He also led a multi-city tour whose purpose was to draw public attention to the hardships that immigrant families and communities were experiencing as a result of deportations.
In 2010 Gutierrez threatened to oppose the Democratic healthcare-reform bill because it included provisions that would prohibit illegal immigrants from purchasing coverage through government-run exchanges. He ultimately decided to back the legislation, however, because he was confident that Congress would soon “move forward on a comprehensive immigration reform package.” But later that year, Gutierrez, dissatisfied with the pace of progress on immigration reform, openly encouraged acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to force Congress to act. “We cannot be a slave to the legislative process,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done, and it hasn’t served us very well.” “I have only one loyalty,” Gutierrez emphasized, “and that’s to the immigrant community.”
In late July 2011, Gutierrez was arrested for participating in a sit-in outside the White House to demand that President Obama stop the deportation of illegal immigrants.
At an August 2013 town hall event in Chantilly, Virginia, Gutierrez warned that if a comprehensive immigration-reform bill was not passed soon:
“[S]omeone is going to die in that [Southwestern U.S.] desert trying to return to their families…. Someone’s going to lose a finger, a hand, an eye, a life today because an unscrupulous employer is going to put them in harm’s way. Someone’s going to die. There’s a woman that’s going to be raped in a field somewhere in America today because she has no rights in this country, and we need to end that…. There are children who are going to cry and there are marriages that are going to be destroyed because someone is going to be deported, and there are going to be children that are going to be left orphaned in this country.”
On October 8, 2013, Gutierrez was one of eight members of Congress (all Democrats) who were arrested when they sat in the middle of Independence Avenue and blocked rush-hour traffic during an immigration rally on Washington’s National Mall. The 15,000-plus demonstrators called for the passage of legislation allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. Also arrested were Representatives Joseph Crowley, Keith Ellison, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, and Jan Schakowsky.
At a July 2014 National Council of La Raza convention, Gutierrez told attendees that he was confident that President Obama would use executive action to give legal status to millions of immigrants who were living in the U.S. unlawfully. In a television interview a few days later, Gutiérrez said he would soon be meeting with White House officials “to negotiate additional terms and avenues the president can use” as means of securing amnesty for millions. “I think we can get 3 or 4, maybe even 5 million people,” he stated.
On August 1, 2014—in the midst of a sudden, massive influx across America’s southern border by more than 50,000 unaccompanied, illegal-immigrant minors hailing from Central America—Gutierrez asserted that “the real, fundamental problem” with the Republican Party was that its more conservative (and supposedly influential) members were deeply concerned with such matters as: “How do we get meaner, how do we get nastier with immigrants?”
That same day, during a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Gutierrez accused Republicans of having reached the “least common denominator of hatefulness.” Warning that Hispanics in America would never forget Republicans’ anti-immigrant attitudes—as evidenced by GOP opposition to amnesty and to President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—the congressman added:
While speaking to the City Club of Chicago in early March 2015, Gutierrez boasted that the Windy City’s authorities were routinely defying federal immigration law, and that illegal immigrant students graduating from high school were now able to attend their first two years of college “for free”—i.e., at taxpayer expense. Said the congressman:
“On immigration, I want to let everybody know, the city of Chicago is the friendliest immigrant city in the nation and [Mayor] [Rahm Emmanue]l had a lot to do with tha. He made sure that we no longer cooperate with immigration authorities when it comes to the deportation and separation of our families by using city structures [sic, strictures]. Nobody can be asked when you enroll your kid in a school or seek out care because you’re injured what your immigration status is, and that’s the law in the city of Chicago. Only in the city of Chicago can you graduate from high school with a ‘B’ average and be guaranteed that you are going to be able to go on to your next two years of college for free—only in Chicago—even if you’re undocumented.”
In late March 2015, Gutierrez announced that on his website, illegal immigrants could now download a newly created immigration “toolkit” designed to help them gather the documentation they would need in order to prove their eligibility for President Obama’s recent executive actions to stop deportations—DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents]. The kit featured a “Do Not Deport Me” card that Gutierrez urged illegals to keep in their wallets at all times: “Use this card only if you are arrested and detained by an immigration official,” he said. “It explains in English and Spanish that you’re eligible for DACA or DAPA. By using this card after you’ve been arrested or detained, you can explain that under the policy in place today, you should be released because you’re not a priority for deportation.
In July 2015, Gutierrez spoke publicly about a recent incident where an illegal alien from Mexico had murdered a young San Francisco woman named Kate Steinle as she was walking along a street with her family. Though the perpetrator already had seven felony convictions and five deportations (to Mexico) on his record, he nevertheless had been able to evade immigration authorities by settling in San Francisco—the city in which he chose to live precisely because of its “sanctuary” policies. Angered by conservatives and Republicans who cited Steinle’s murder as evidence of the need for stricter enforcement of immigration laws, Gutierrez said: “Every time a little thing like this happens, they use the most extreme example to say it [sanctuary policies] must be eliminated.”
On September 30, 2015, Gutierrez went to the House floor and pledged his determination to pass legislation aimed at providing, through the the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), health insurance coverage to all illegal immigrants residing in the United States. Said the congressman: “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you means moving forward with no restrictions on which brother and sister and neighbor we think of as ‘eligible’ or ‘deserving.’ … As it stands right now, undocumented immigrants are not subject to the individual mandate and cannot buy into health insurance exchanges even if they use their own money. My legislation will change that. It says that we stand for inclusion. My party, and the vast majority of the country, understands that getting immigrants on the books and into the system, and integrating them into today’s American society should be the goal. Just as we have done with every other group of immigrants throughout our history. And my legislation… is a step in that direction.”
On November 17, 2015, Gutiérrez went to the floor of the House to denounce Republicans who — in light of the possibility that many Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists might infiltrate the U.S. by posing as refugees — were calling for America to deny admittance to anyone from war-torn, terrorism-ravaged Syria. He said:
“Candidates for president of the United States, politicians and pundits will be tempted to say whatever they can to get the news cameras pointed at them. The governor of Illinois, my home state, could not resist saying our state was closed to Syrians fleeing the terror of ISIS and the regime. The governor of Louisiana, a son of immigrants, said no to refugees. The governors of other states did so too. A senator whose parents came as refugees from Cuba fleeing there has said no, too. This is despicable and cowardly and precisely the kind of reaction ISIS wanted. ISIS could not have written a better script. The free people of the world are turning their backs on people seeking safety and freedom. When we send Jews back to Germany and when we send Japanese to internment camps, we regretted it and we’ll regret this as well. We have had candidates actually say that refugees seeking safety in the strongest nation in the world must first pass a test to prove they are from an acceptable religion in the United States of America…. It is not the time to lose sight of ourselves and say America is too weak, America cannot handle 20,000 or 200,000 refugees fleeing for their lives. It is not the time for America to consider raising the white flag and say to those waiving the black flag, yes, ISIS, you are right, we dislike and fear Muslims….”
During a six-day tour to East Jerusalem and Ramallah sponsored by the Palestinian group MIFTAH in the spring of 2016, Gutierrez was one of five U.S. congressmen who met with Shawan Jabarin, a longtime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operative who had since served as: the general director of Al-Haq, a vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Board, and a commissioner for the International Commission of Jurists. The other congressmen who met with Jabarin included Democrats Hank Johnson, Mark Pocan, Matt Cartwright, and Dan Kildee.
In May 2016, Gutierrez was appointed by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to serve on the Democratic Party’s platform committee. In that role, Gutierrez tried, along with two of Bernie Sanders’ appointees to that same committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, to craft a Middle East policy that showed more sympathy to the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In an interview, Gutierrez said he was aiming to articulate a platform that “elaborates more clearly the wishes, the desires, the aspirations of the Palestinian people and their hope for justice and for peace and equality.” “Absolutely, I think we can do more,” he added.
On June 2, 2016, Gutierrez departed for a long-planned trip to cities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where he was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority officials, Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset, and Palestinian students and businessmen. Just before embarking on the trip, Gutierrez said: “I am going to go with an open mind, to listen and to discuss the issues. You should not make any pre-judgment about what Luis Gutierrez is going to do on the platform committee.” Gutierrez’s trip was hosted by the American Global Institute, an organization funded by MIFTAH.
Gutierrez was one of dozens of Congressional Democrats who chose to boycott the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.
During Trump’s first State Of The Union address on January 30, 2018, the president at one point lauded the Capitol building as “a monument to the American people,” prompting applause as well as chants of “USA! USA! USA!” At that moment, Gutierrez left his seat and walked out of the chamber. After the speech, Gutierrez excoriated Trump in a scathing statement:
“Even though I disagreed with almost everything he said, for Trump, the speech was clear and well-delivered. Whoever translated it for him from Russian did a good job…. The White House agenda is to gut legal immigration in exchange for allowing some of the Dreamers to live here…. The speech did nothing to bring the pro- and anti-immigrant sides closer together.
“I was hoping for some sort of apology on Puerto Rico, but I heard nothing. Puerto Rico is a metaphor for how this President sees all Latinos and people of color: he does not see us as his equals and he does not see us as fellow human beings. If you look at how the President has treated Puerto Rico, you have to conclude that he just doesn’t care and probably thinks of Puerto Rico as just another sh*thole country…. I was hoping to get through my life without having to witness an outwardly, explicitly racist American President, but my luck ran out.”
In early March 2018, Gutierrez told National Public Radio (NPR) that President Trump was a “racist” because of his immigration agenda. “If this president is not a racist, then I don’t know who is,” said the congressman, adding that Trump sought to bring more “people from Norway” to the U.S. while preventing non-whites from entering the country.
In a separate interview two days later, Gutierrez stated: “So Trump’s immigration approach is pretty simple: If you are white, you’re alright. If you are brown, you are lower down. And if you are black, just go back…. Yes, in America, if you have a million dollars or you look like a million dollars, you can get a visa. But if you look like a parking attendant or a busboy or a field hand or the King of Wakanda [the fictional African nation in the Black Panther movie] – in the eyes of our President, you are not welcome.” “Yep, you take a look at the Winter Olympics leader-board of the countries that won medals,” he added, “and that is a pretty good list of who Trump wants to have here. Norway, check. Canada, check. Netherlands? OK. But we better add Russia.”
In a June 2018 interview with Pod Save America, Gutierrez portrayed the Trump administration’s emphasis on MS-13 gang violence as a political ploy to stimulate Republican turnout in the upcoming midterm elections. Said the congressman: “Here’s the strategy of Donald Trump. He beats up on Latinos and immigrants. It’s really a political strategy for the fall 2018 elections…. He’s trying to fire up his base. All this talk about MS-13 and border security is a smokescreen.”
In June 2018 as well, Gutierrez announced that he would not seek re-election that November but rather, would step down from Congress and move to Puerto Rico to help what he called his “other home” recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
In late June 2018, Gutierrez vowed to organize “angry” Latinos to vote President Trump out of office in 2020, declaring that “one million Latinos turn 18 every year and we’re going to register every last one of them to vote in the next election.” “We’re angry, we’re marching, we’re registering, and we will prevail in the United States of the America,” he said. Gutierrez also claimed that Trump’s objective was to be “mean,” “cruel,” “vicious,” and “inhumane” to illegal immigrants. Republicans, he added, “don’t care about immigrants [and] tearing children away from their parents as long as it allows them to stay in power.”
In a September 2018 interview on MSNBC’s All In program, Gutiérrez condemned President Trump for having characterized his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which had struck Puerto Rico in 2017, as a “success.” Added the congressman:
“It might be [a success], although I’m sure that there are others that will compete, one of his just biggest fabrications and lies. How do you celebrate and declare a success when officially now the deaths are over 3,000? And, you know, that’s the latest study. One accepted by the government of Puerto rRico that never wanted to change the numbers and was complicit with this president in trying to hide the real calamity and deaths and the lack of action of the American government. But let me say this; the Harvard study said it was over 4,000…. I think the mayor of San Juan was absolutely correct, you let people die. And, you know, if you think a success is having the deaths of people on your hands. I think it’s important to put it into context. He said two things. He said, ‘well, you know, the people of Puerto Rico would be better off, but they want us to do everything for them.’ So he called us lazy. And then he said, ‘wow, you’re busting my budget.’ … This is a president of the United States with a catastrophic situation in Puerto Rico, unprecedented in Puerto Rico with thousands of people dying and saying how expensive and how lazy we are. The only one who was lazy was you, Mr. President. You were lazy, and you weren’t on duty and people died because of it.”
In October 2018, Gutierrez said the following about President Trump’s assertion that he was considering an executive order to end birthright citizenship for children born to illegal aliens in the United States: “Even as we cope with bombers and mass murderers triggered by lies about refugees and immigrants, Trump keeps going back to his comfort zone, the foundation of his presidency: hating on brown people.”
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in December 2018, Gutierrez told Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that Jesus Christ would have “perished” if President Trump’s border policies had been in place during the time of King Herod. Said the congressman:
“It is repugnant to me and astonishing to me that during Christmas … a time in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—a Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph. Thank God there wasn’t a wall that stopped him from seeking refuge in Egypt. Thank God that wall wasn’t there. And thank God there wasn’t an administration like this or he would have too perished on the 28th, on the Day of Innocence when Herod ordered the murder of every child under two years of age. Shame on everybody that separates children and allows them to stay at the other side of the border fearing death, fearing hunger, fearing sickness! Shame on us for wearing our badge of Christianity during Christmas and allow the secretary to come here and lie!”
For an overview of Gutierrez’s voting record on numerous key issues during the course of his congressional career, click here.
Gutierrez’s final term as a member of the House of Representatives came to an end on January 3, 2019. Four days later, CNN introduced him as a new political commentator for the network.
Gutierrez also became a senior policy advisor for the National Partnership of New Americans, a coalition of more than three-dozen immigrant- and refugee-rights groups.
In an April 2019 commentary on CNN, Gutierrez exhorted the mayors of major U.S. cities to open “welcoming centers” for caravan migrants. Because America was the “richest, most powerful nation in the world,” he said, it “should also be the nation with the biggest heart and a nation that has a great tradition of receiving refugees…. There should be welcoming centers all across America for these refugees, for these asylum seekers to find a home in America. That’s what I believe people should be doing right now.” Gutierrez also declared that the United States should provide more financial aid to Central American nations, so as to encourage their inhabitants to stay there rather than seek greener economic pastures in the U.S.