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Does Rahm have real credentials on immigration?

Updated: April 30, 2011 4:46AM

For months now, mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel has countered those questioning his commitment to Chicago’s immigrant community by saying he had the same voting record on immigration as his former congressional colleague, Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

On Friday, Gutierrez — regarded as one of the nation’s leading advocates for undocumented immigrants — decided he’d had enough of Emanuel trying to use him for political cover and lashed out strongly at his fellow Democrat, accusing him of trying to “rewrite history” to make nice with Latino voters.

“He has not stood up for immigrants. He has not made the right decisions. He has made political decisions,” said Gutierrez, who last weekend announced his endorsement of Gery Chico for mayor, but without the Emanuel-bashing he displayed Friday.

While admitting Emanuel may be factually correct in saying they have the same voting record, Gutierrez said that “just doesn’t tell the whole story,” because it leaves out Emanuel’s role in shaping Democratic political strategy and White House policy that he says have been detrimental to the immigrant cause.

Gutierrez made the remarks at a press conference held by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights to call on President Obama to halt his administration’s policy of stepped-up deportations under the Secure Communities program. The deportation program — initiated while Emanuel was White House chief of staff — is designed to remove dangerous criminals from the country, but a new study by the coalition contends government data shows most of those caught up in the crackdown in Illinois have not been convicted of a crime. Many are being picked up in traffic stops, the group says.

All four major mayoral candidates were invited to the event. Chico and Carol Moseley Braun both made appearances to show their support, and Miguel del Valle sent word he also backs a moratorium.

That left Emanuel the odd man out, which made him an easy target for the others.

Even a Catholic priest got in his licks on Emanuel during what was supposed to be the opening prayer.

The immigrant issue demonstrates how Emanuel’s national stature as a Washington insider cuts both ways as he returns home to run for mayor. What was good politics for someone plotting strategy for Democratic congressional candidates around the country and later for the president of the U.S. may not play as well in a local race where Hispanic voters have become a key swing constituency.

Emanuel, no doubt anticipating Friday’s rough reception, staged a preemptive strike Thursday evening,

Citing his own immigrant roots, Emanuel said he plans to create a local DREAM Status, patterned after the proposed federal DREAM Act legislation, that would establish a privately funded college financial aid program for “law abiding” children of illegal immigrants.

The immigrant coalition complimented Emanuel’s “small step forward” and again requested he join the anti-deportation effort.

But Gutierrez scoffed at Emanuel’s proposal as “too little, too late” and another example of his rhetoric not matching his record.

The distrust of Emanuel by immigrant advocates stems in large part from his role as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2005 when he urged party candidates facing tough election fights to support the harshly anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner legislation that became the rallying point for massive immigration marches around the country the following spring.

That helped lead to the perception that Emanuel is also at fault for Obama going slow on fulfilling his promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

At the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board debate Friday, Emanuel defended himself: “I pulled a bipartisan meeting together with Democrats and Republicans in the House to say, ‘How do we make progress?’ which is why I pushed immediately to go to the DREAM Act, which everybody didn’t want to do, and now, five years later, they finally realize that’s the right step.”

Later at the press conference, Emanuel drew the ire of Rev. Claudio Holzer, pastor for a Melrose Park woman, Teresa Figueroa, whose deportation for identity theft became a cause celebre for Chicago area Latinos in 2005. Holzer said Figueroa never got any help from Emanuel, her congressman, despite repeated requests. “Rahm Emanuel didn’t move one finger for her,” said Holzer, pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, before giving the opening prayer.

Do I hear an amen?

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