AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
No one is watching more closely how this latest immigration debate will shake out than our next guest.
Carlos Gutierrez was Secretary of Commerce during George W. Bush's second term. He went on to advise Mitt Romney in his recent run for president. After the election, Gutierrez founded a superPAC called Republicans for Immigration Reform, which gives you a sense of where he's coming from, and he supports Senator Rubio's position.
I began talking with Carlos Gutierrez about that word we just heard in David Welna's story, amnesty.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: This is a very complicated human drama, so we're not going to deport 12 million people, and on the other extreme, we're not going to hand them a passport. The solution is somewhere in the middle. So if there are people who would like to dismiss this as simply amnesty, then I suppose they are making a case for mass deportation, which I don't believe the American people would be for and, frankly, I don't believe the Republican Party will be for.
CORNISH: With your superPAC, is the point to essentially give Republicans who are willing to shift their stance, who are willing to espouse the things that you're talking about cover, you know, the ability to challenge the party stance on this?
GUTIERREZ: Yeah. We believe that there are a lot of Republicans who would like to see reform. Unfortunately, what we're seeing today is a lot of ads from very radical population control groups and they're trying to kill the bill, and we need more people to be out there talking about why this is good for the country.
CORNISH: Now, this sounds like a very difficult task. And to illustrate this, I want to play something that you will recognize. It's from the Republican primary debate last year. Governor Romney, at one point, he's asked by the moderator, if you don't deport immigrants, how do you send them home?
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MITT ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide that they could do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here.
CORNISH: This is the moment where Governor Romney is speaking directly to the Republican base. It's a Republican primary debate. But this is where the dialogue is, and do you really - I mean, are you being naive here in saying that this is going to shift?
GUTIERREZ: No. I don't believe that in six months, we are going to capture the Latino or the immigrant vote. I do believe it's a long haul, but we believe the Republican Party should be part of a solution and not part of blocking a solution. The self-deportation comment, I think - I don't know where that came from, by the way, but it's the worst campaign advice that he received because what immigrant groups heard was, get out of our country.
Immigrants just had this gut feel, this visceral feel that this man representing the GOP doesn't like immigrants.
CORNISH: But what's interesting is, you know, then you hear from the editorial writers of the National Review saying that Republican immigration reformers with an eye to political reality should begin by appreciating that Latinos are a Democratic constituency. They're basically arguing, this is a group that's very much Democrat-leaning, has been for a long time, and immigration reform is not going to change that.
GUTIERREZ: What they fail to understand is that the reason we are doing this is not because we think that Latinos are going to become Republicans in six months. We're doing this because it's the right thing for the country. And I think, you know, as a staunch Republican, I would say the first thing is the country. This is good policy. This is good for our economy and it's good for our society.
CORNISH: But are they right? I mean, is it wishful thinking? It's not just Barack Obama that's won 70 percent of the Latino vote. I mean...
GUTIERREZ: I mean, if there are people who are thinking that, if we're part of the solution for immigration reform, all of a sudden Latinos are going to vote for Republicans, then I think they're being naive, but in terms of attracting Latinos and Asians and immigrants to our party, that's a long term process. It's not going to happen on one vote. And anyone who thinks that is being naive.
But we've got to start. We have to start now being part of the solution and not continue to send messages that suggest that we are the anti-immigration party because we are not. There may be some people who are, but they should not speak for the party.
CORNISH: Carlos Gutierrez, thank you so much for speaking with us.
GUTIERREZ: Thank you. Pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.