Hopeful Democratic challenger to Ted Cruz unveils immigration plan

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, left, is seen during a campaign stop in the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Courtesy: Roland Gutierrez)
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State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, doesn’t see himself as an underdog in the Democratic Primary race that will determine who will go up against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz next November.

Despite being outraised by millions of dollars by fellow Democratic Primary opponent Colin Allred, the U.S. Congressman from Dallas, and both candidates having poor name recognition among recently polled voters, Gutierrez sees himself as the only candidate who can actually get things done.

Gutierrez sees himself as someone who can give Texas’ ever-growing Latino electorate a voice in the U.S. Senate that looks and sounds like them — one that isn’t afraid to shy away from persnickety issues that have for decades met with partisan gridlock.

“Our message is that we’re hurting and we can do better. We must and can do better. I mean, we must,” Gutierrez told The Monitor during an exclusive interview Monday while heading toward a campaign appearance in Laredo.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez meets with voters during a campaign trip through the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Courtesy: Roland Gutierrez)

Just days prior, the state senator had been in the Rio Grande Valley, which has become a frequent campaign stop since he first announced his Senate bid in mid-July.

While here, Gutierrez met with leaders in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties, including stops in the Mid-Valley, where he toured Rio Grande College and talked drainage with Precinct 1 Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes.

Gutierrez capped off the visit with a concert by one of his more high-profile endorsers, Tejano music artist Ramon Ayala.

But back on the road Monday — while Gutierrez squeezed in one more meet-and-greet before returning to Austin to adjourn the state legislature’s third special session — Gutierrez was again all business.

Prioritizing border communities is no accident for the lawmaker. Indeed, Gutierrez has made immigration reform one of the central tenets of his campaign.

Gutierrez recently released a comprehensive five-point immigration reform plan that he says will strengthen the economy, make the border safer, and perhaps even save the ailing Social Security system.

“It is an aggressive plan. It is something that seeks to completely repair what is entirely broken,” Gutierrez said.

He criticized Senate Republicans, like Ted Cruz, who he said vilify the border as a single-issue problem involving criminality, while ignoring the systemic issues that have led to a steady rise in migration into the United States.

But he also directed that criticism at members of his own party who he said have similarly failed to implement solutions.

“Republicans are lying to us all, and Democrats are too afraid to pick up the mantle and say this is how you truly fix it,” Gutierrez said.

“Who would’ve thought that having a comprehensive immigration reform plan would stimulate the economy, would bolster Social Security, would stop this madness and chaos at the border?” Gutierrez said.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, right, is seen with Tejano music legend Ramon Ayala, left, during a campaign concert on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Courtesy: Roland Gutierrez)

For the state senator and career immigration attorney, immigration isn’t a problem to be walled off either literally or figuratively in what he characterized as Republicans’ “Katie, bar the door” mentality.

Instead, immigration is an opportunity.

Gutierrez’s plan calls for pathways to residency for both guest workers and Dreamers — adults who were brought to the United States as children prior to 2007.

It also calls for an elimination of the H-2A and H-2B worker visa systems and replacing them with a system that better reflects the country’s current needs.

Gutierrez called the two worker visa programs “ridiculous” and “broken,” adding that their quotas have not been updated since the late-1970s.

Under his plan, migrant workers would apply for jobs at U.S. Consulate kiosks in their own countries before ever setting foot on an otherwise treacherous journey northward.

They’d be connected to employers offering one of the 30 million in vacant jobs that Gutierrez said American citizens don’t want to take.

Once hired, the migrant workers would receive travel and temporary living accommodations. They’d also contribute employment taxes into the American economy — something Gutierrez hopes will serve as a century-long lifeline for Social Security, which is expected to run into serious funding shortfalls by 2035.

After 20 years, the migrant workers would be eligible to apply for residency.

Other visa programs, including student and investor visas, would also get a significant overhaul.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, center, is seen with Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra, right, during a campaign stop in Weslaco on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Courtesy: Roland Gutierrez)

Gutierrez’s plan also calls for eliminating transnational criminal organizations by making broader use of the tactic of embedding U.S. law enforcement in other countries in an effort to combat human and drug trafficking.

Gutierrez wants to send DEA agents south of the border to upend the cartels that he says are hurting both the Mexican and American economies.

“Let’s be clear, we’ve done this before. We did it with the Merida accords. This is not anything new,” Gutierrez said.

However, the Merida Initiative — launched in 2008 under former President George W. Bush — pumped $3 billion into funding Mexican security forces, but has largely been panned as a failure due to rampant corruption and bloodshed.

“The Merida Initiative is dead. It doesn’t work, OK?” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told The Washington Post in a July 2021 interview.

Border issues are complex, Gutierrez admitted. Nor are they new, he added while criticizing Republicans for hyper-focusing on border security.

“People are getting caught up in this Republican message … It’s all about an immigration story that’s not true. It’s a lie. It’s based on a lie that it’s all Joe Biden’s fault,” Gutierrez said. “No, we’ve been dealing with this for 50 years, for 100 years, since our inception as a nation,” he said.

For Gutierrez, it’s imperative for lawmakers to get back to the business of governing, rather than scoring points with political pundits.

“What resources have we gotten from them? What has made life so much better? What so-called ‘resources’ have somehow got us living this so-called ‘Texas miracle’ that Abbott and others and Cruz suggest?” the senator said.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez is seen during a campaign concert headlined by Tejano music legend Ramon Ayala in Weslaco on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (Courtesy: Roland Gutierrez)

Recently, Gutierrez returned home to San Antonio from a long day on the state senate floor in Austin.

As he prepared to enjoy Halloween by trick-or-treating with his teenage daughters, Gutierrez made an impromptu decision to dress as the man he hopes to unseat next November.

Gutierrez donned a face mask with a Texas flag emblazoned on it. Behind him, he dragged a black rolling suitcase in a re-enactment of a February 2021 photo that captured Cruz at an airport at the height of a deadly Texas freeze.

While Cruz fled to fairer climates, Gutierrez was traveling across his district bringing pallets of water to nursing homes in Devine and Poteet, where the residents had run out of drinking water due to the storm, he said.

I know what I was doing during that winter freeze. And you know what you were doing during that winter freeze. And (Cruz) was getting on a plane and going to the Ritz Carlton in Cancun,” Gutierrez said.

“The rest of us were freezing our a—— off,” he said.