On Immigration Reform, Paul Ryan's Role Growing

Gutierrez says Republican moderation will be the key to passing immigration reform.

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"Shame on anybody who would exploit this issue," says Gutierrez.

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., understands it's a long way to get the 218 votes on the House scoreboard he will need to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but Gutierrez told reporters Tuesday during a breakfast meeting he's got some Republican back ups who will hopefully carry him over the finish line.

Gutierrez is part of a "secret" bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that has been toiling away for years to develop a comprehensive immigration plan and is close to unveiling a bill in the upcoming weeks.

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Gutierrez says that budget architect Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has been an unexpected ally in the fight for reform since he returned to Congress from the presidential campaign trail. In the gym, after the election, Gutierrez says Ryan approached him and said "Luis I want to do this because it is the right thing to do."

Paul's interest in the issue has been long standing, Gutierrez says. Although as Mitt Romney's running mate Ryan's personal convictions were overshadowed by Romney's position that illegal immigrants should self deport.

"He is not new to it, but I believe, like many in the GOP, he was shut out. His voice was shut out," Gutierrez says.

Gutierrez told reporters Tuesday that Ryan, who has a reputation in the House of bridging the divide between GOP leadership and the conservative rank-and-file, has concerns about the fall out if Congress doesn't get the immigration bill done right.

[READ: Rand Paul Calls for Immigration Reform]

"One of the things that when Congressman Ryan and I were talking, he said 'Luis our Catholic faith we share cannot allow us to create a permanent underclass," Gutierrez recalled.

Ryan has said he does support an earned path to citizenship as long as those who came illegally do not get to cut in line ahead of those who followed the laws.

Gutierrez, who has devoted his 20 years in Congress to transforming the country's immigration system, says that "every conversation" he has had with Republicans about immigration reform since the November election has had a decidedly different tone.

This isn't the first time Gutierrez has relied on Republicans to lift some of the immigration weight off of his back. In 2012, Gutierrez credits legislation introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as being a tipping point, and the reason the White House issued an executive order to give DREAMers, individuals who came to the U.S. illegally as children, a path to stay in the U.S. permanently.

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Gutierrez says for months Democratic congressmen and senators had been urging the White House to issue an executive order, but the administration was not sold on the idea until Rubio announced his own version of the DREAM Act, and Gutierrez threatened to draft an accompanying House bill.

"I made sure that the White House understood that I and others would sponsor [and] introduce legislation that would move forward Rubio's proposal," Gutierrez says. "I said 'You may have a Rubio problem, I have a deportation problem, and if Rubio solves the deportation problem than I am for that solution."

A few weeks later, the White House issued an executive order.

"I kind of look at it positively, working together can get it done," Gutierrez says.

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But Gutierrez has work to do on his own side of the aisle as well. He continues to worry about Democrats who might like to preserve immigration as an electoral wedge issue. In the 2012 election, the president won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote, putting him over the top and securing him his reelection.

"Shame on anybody who would exploit this issue," Gutierrez said. "I think there are probably people in the Democratic Party who would probably think that if we get [a deal] great, but if we don't then they will blame the Republicans anyway."

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