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Democrats offer sharper critique of GOP border bills in Spanish

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Calif.), right, shakes hands with immigrants before a hearing on Capitol Hill in March. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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Outraged House Democrats and several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus lashed out at Republicans Friday for planning to hold votes on two bills designed to address the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats said that neither piece of legislation will immediately address the crisis and is instead designed to demonize the young immigrants crossing the border and endanger their lives if they're sent home. The comments came during a hastily-arranged news conference attended by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and at least a dozen members of the CHC.

Notably, two bilingual members of the caucus delivered sharper critiques of Republicans when speaking in Spanish -- clearly an attempt to reach over the heads of the mostly English-language congressional press corps and deliver a message to the millions of Latinos who might tune in tonight to Spanish-language television or radio newscasts in major cities and swing states.

Two examples demonstrate the sharper Spanish rhetoric. Watch the news conference here or below:

First, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was asked what the lack of congressional action would mean for the federal agencies operating along the southern border. He responded in English:

"My experience has been… that whenever we don’t fund what we are supposed to fund on time, the crisis just grows and the people that are on the ground trying to do their work, cannot do their work. So the Republicans now can complain Republicans now can complain about the situation, not funding it or not funding it improperly, not backing up the people on the ground makes it just worse."

Then Serrano was asked by a Spanish-speaking reporter to respond in Spanish "for the Hispanic community." He said:

"Si no hay los fondos que el presidente quiere hacer y los lideres que estan alli en la frontera la situacion se pone peor. Especialmente durante un periodo cuando el congreso no va estar en sesion legislativa. Ellos creen – el partido Republicano creen que no da lo fondo necesario le da una oportunidad ellos hacer un comentario politicio. Lo unico que va hacer, hacer crecer la crisis, crecer el sufrimento humano y crecer la percepcion de que este pais dejo de ser el pais que le habre la puerta a los necesitados. Y eso crea diference problema de diferente indole."

The English translation of Serrano's Spanish remarks:

"If there aren't the funds that the president wants and the officials on the border want, the situation will get worse. Especially during a period when congress won't be in legislative session. They think -- the Republican Party thinks -- that to not give the funds is an opportunity for them to make a political commentary. The only thing it will do, it will increase the crisis, it will increase the human suffering and increase the perception that this country has stopped being one that opens it doors to those in need. And that will create different types of problems."

Notice that Serrano was a little sharper by raising doubts about whether the United States would remain a welcoming country for immigrants. He's essentially suggesting that Republicans are sullying the American image as a country of opportunity.

Later, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who as we've written before is "a ubiquitous presence on the national Spanish-language newscasts of Univision and Telemundo" was asked about the policy changes Republicans are seeking in their legislation, including the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Obama enacted in 2012.

Here's part of Gutierrez's English response:

"Look, unfortunately, the way they speak about a community, it’s almost as if the children, we are a vile, repugnant community to them that they vilify and demonize in every one of their statements. And I think that is a sad commentary, because there are dozens of members of the Republican Party and the Republican caucus that I know, and we know and that we work with every day and we know that this is not a reflection of who they are and their values.
"But apparently, the loudest, meanest, most vile voices are the ones that are dominating their caucus and that’s unfortunate."

Then Gutierrez responded in Spanish:

"Mire, esto tiene que ver con proteger los derechos de los ninos hoy, proteger los derechos de los sonadores, mas de 700,000 jovenes que tienen permiso de trabajo. Y proteger los derechos de milliones de personas que el presidente tiene la habilidad y que nosotros hemos peticionado como pueblo que el actue. Y ellos saben que el va a actuar pronto. Ellos quieren mantener esta crisis para condenar a nuestra comunidad, a una comunidad sin derechos para nuestros ninos en este momento, nuestros sonadores y para milliones de otros que el presidente ha dicho que el quiera ayudar. Eso es lo que ellos quieren. Quieren castigar nuestra comunidad. Y ese castigo va hacer recibido con un castigo electoral. Aseguerensen que nosotros no no vamos a olvidar del mal trato que nuestra comunidad ha recibido.

Here's a rough translation of what Gutierrez said:

"This has to be seen as an attempt to protect the rights of children, protect the rights of DREAMers, the more than 700,000 young people who have the right to work. And to protect the rights of millions of people who the president has the ability -- and that we need to petition him as a community to ensure that he acts. And they [Republicans] know that he's going to act soon. They want to maintain this crisis to condemn our community, a community without rights for these children, these DREAMers and for the millions of others that the president has said he wants to help. That's what they want. They want to punish our community. And the punishment will be reciprocated with a political punishment. Be sure that we are not going to forget the bad treatment that our community has received."

Given Gutierrez's almost constant presence on Spanish-language television and radio, he has an outsized influence in the Latino community despite his lack of clout on Capitol Hill. So his Spanish comments Friday amounted to a rallying cry: Get ready in the coming months to pressure Obama to expand DACA and make sure you get out and vote in November against Republicans, who are seeking to "punish" you.

In response, Wadi Gaitan, press secretary for the House Republican Conference, said in an e-mail that "While House Republicans are taking action to advance a fair, effective solution that will support our border patrol, provide emergency care, and reunite children – who don’t qualify for asylum — with their families in their home countries, House Democrats are focusing on political press conferences, calling solutions they once asked for — along with the president — offensive and anti-Hispanic instead of working in a bipartisan way to achieve a solution."

Votes on the House GOP border bills surely will lead the Univision and Telemundo evening newscasts — shows that regularly defeat the English-language competition in parts of Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere. And it's a sure bet that much of what Serrano and Gutierrez said will appear prominently.