Immigration Reform Unhinges Congressman

05/18/2010 12:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Even before Arizona's highly controversial "immigration" law was signed by Governor Jan Brewer, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez was making threats.

Gutierrez, Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force, is fond of portentous pronouncements. Either pass immigration reform this year or Latinos will not vote in November, he recently announced.
In fact, Gutierrez continues to threaten his Democratic colleagues (and delighting his Republican adversaries) with the specter of Latinos sitting out the November mid-terms - unless the whole political establishment changes gears and delivers comprehensive immigration reform before the August Congressional recess.

This threat when first uttered was, at best, histrionic, but now with the Arizona bill passed, it sounds, well, unhinged.

What better way to show your power at the ballot box than by not voting?  Why be highly visible during a critical election when invisibility is such a huge benefit.  Don't count - disappear.

Gutierrez' strategic dissonance is significant; he wants a reform law to bring people into the system, put them on a path to citizenship so that they can vote. What better way to get this reform passed than by encouraging the main constituency for immigration reform, Americans of Latinos descent, to not participate in the elections? 

Gutierrez seems to be captured in the 1960's civil rights idealization bubble - a place where marches are the only political tool in the shed, passion takes the place of political strategy, cheap theater (like getting arrested in front of the White House for the cameras as he recently was) replaces real debate.

And whatever you do, don't use the Internet to organize (it hasn't been invented yet, you see).

Some weeks ago, Gutierrez came to Los Angeles and gave a showy press conference.  He threatened (pattern alert) that the upcoming marches in Washington would finally put immigration reform on the agenda - or Latinos would not vote in November. The marches happened, immigration reform did not. So now Gutierrez is back to encouraging Latinos not to vote.

Here's a (not) radical, alternative idea: let's pump up the Latino vote. 

Let's get every American of Latino decent who is not registered to vote to finally register.  (Just before the 2008 election, it was estimated that there were some 700,000 Latinos in Los Angeles County alone who could vote but were not registered).

Let's reach people with a positive message that American democracy actually does work - but it takes effort, sweat and relentlessness.  And not just another march to nowhere.

Let's teach them a little history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the great generation of civil rights leaders were not just good marchers and orators - they had deeply thought, multilayered strategies to drive sweeping political and social change.

Let's abandon the "Great Leader" paradigm in favor of real community leaders that engage their neighborhoods, start debates with friends and family, organize people on the Internet and on election day, get them out to vote.

Instead of Gutierrez' proposed electoral boycotts - let's vote and show our real power in a representative democracy.

And please, no more "leadership" from politicians who can't tell the difference between the objective conditions of the 1960's and the realities of second decade of the 21st century.

Gutierrez' drama filled speeches play well with undocumented people desperate for a chance at the American Dream - but they are not a replacement for a real political strategy to persuade legislators and a skeptical public that comprehensive immigration reform is in the best interest of our country.

Latinos deserve better leaders and America does too.