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Bring People Together

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Gutierrez) for 5 minutes.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez

legislator photo

Last Thursday, a different kind of March madness took place in the NCAA basketball tournament. In a game between Kansas State and Mississippi State, Angel Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican point guard for Kansas State, was met with taunts from Mississippi State students while he was getting ready to shoot a free throw. The taunt: ``Where's your green card?''

That wasn't the only March madness. Earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas, a white high school in San Antonio chanted during the regional basketball championship trophy presentation. Their chant: ``USA, USA, USA.'' Why did they chant USA? Because their team had defeated San Antonio's Thomas Edison High School, a team of mostly Latino players.

One U.S. citizen asked to produce his green card, one entire team of Americans taunted as if they were foreigners.

These young people, subjected to hatred and bigotry, handled it well.

Angel Rodriguez ignored the taunts and played a great game. If he hadn't been busy helping Kansas State win the game, he might have mentioned to everybody that he was from Miami or that all Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States.

I'm impressed that the kids from Thomas Edison High School kept their cool. They deserve our praise not only for being good basketball players, but just for being great kids.

Mississippi State and Alamo Heights have apologized for the taunts. That's an important step in the right direction. That's not the issue. The issue is why people think it's okay to treat Latinos as if they are second-rate Americans, why so many people think being Latino means being a suspect in our own country, why they look at a young man named Rodriguez and think he doesn't belong in this country. It's because misguided kids taunting Latinos is not really the disease. It's the symptom.

The heart of the sickness is more troubling. The truth is, when it comes to Latinos and immigrants, far too many so-called leaders in our Nation are starting the taunts.

On the campaign trail and on talk radio and on TV, and even here in this Chamber, there are leaders that act like the biggest bullies in the schoolyard. If elected officials have no boundaries when it comes to scapegoating and demonizing immigrants and Latinos, then why should young people at a basketball game know any better? Why does an American, a Puerto Rican citizen basketball player, get taunted about a green card?

It's easier to understand when you hear the frontrunner for the Republican nomination of President promoting a national immigration policy that makes all Latinos look like suspects and all immigrants look like criminals.

Mitt Romney has said that Arizona's anti-immigrant law--a law that essentially demands racial profiling of anyone who looks like they might be undocumented--is a model for our Nation. But that's not all Mitt Romney has said to American Latinos. He has said all 11 million immigrants, most of them Latinos, should self-deport, even if they've lived here since they were children and have American citizen families.

Mitt Romney has even gone as far to attack the first Latino Supreme Court justice. He believes that Justice Sotomayor is unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court. He's proud of the support of anti-immigrant extremists, including the author of Arizona's anti-immigrant law. He has attacked the DREAM Act, a perfectly reasonable bill. And Mitt Romney is hardly a lone voice. It is sad.

One Member of this House said he would be for any measure to stop illegal immigrants ``short of shooting them.'' Even hanging them? gassing them? One other colleague of ours here called undocumented immigration a slow-rolling, slow-motion terrorist attack on the United States.

Pat Buchanan wrote a book entitled ``State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.'' Folks like Buchanan and Limbaugh regularly use words like ``hordes'' and ``swarms'' to describe immigrants.

Maybe Mitt Romney thinks he's just saying what he needs to say to get the Republican nomination, and maybe some elected officials think their extreme rhetoric doesn't really carry outside the Halls of Congress. But America knows better. So does a group of Kansas State basketball players and a group of good kids from San Antonio, Texas. They know that words matter very much.

Here's my advice to the Romneys and the Buchanans of the world and a few of my colleagues here in the House: Instead of bullies, why don't you be leaders? And why don't you try some words that bring people together instead of insults that tear our Nation apart.