Luis Vicente Gutierrez has served in House of Representatives since 1993. He is recognized as the “national leader on comprehensive immigration reform.” In the 113th Congress, with his 20 years of service, Gutiérrez became the longest serving member of the Illinois House delegation, and is the dean of the delegation. Of Puerto Rican descent, he is an outspoken advocate of workers’ rights, LGBT rights, gender equality, and other liberal and progressive causes. Gutiérrez has been compared to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., due to both figures’ use of non-violent civil disobedience in their advocacy for the equal rights of their communities. His supporters have given him the nickname El Gallito – the little fighting rooster – in reference to his fiery oratory and political prowess. Gutiérrez was born and raised in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, then an immigrant and working-class community. His mother was an assembly-line worker and his father was a cab driver. After his freshman year at St. Michael’s High School, his parents moved the family to their hometown of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico. Gutiérrez, who had never before visited the island, reluctantly followed his parents; there he learned to speak Spanish.
In 1974, Gutiérrez returned to Chicago and enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University. He got involved in student activism and social justice issues, writing for the student publication Que Ondee Sola and serving as the president of the Union for Puerto Rican Students. In 1976, while a senior at Northeastern, he began driving a cab in order to raise enough funds to reunite with his longtime girlfriend, Soraida, in Puerto Rico. In 1976, after graduating from Northeastern Illinois University with a degree in English, he returned to Puerto Rico and married Soraida. The couple returned to Chicago in 1978 and, unable to find other work, Gutiérrez took up taxi driving full-time. Gutiérrez eventually found work as a social worker with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services. Gutiérrez has been married to Soraida Arocho Gutiérrez for almost forty years. Together they have two daughters – Omaira and Jessica. Jessica’s middle name – Washington – comes from the late Mayor Harold Washington, a close friend and mentor of Gutiérrez. Soraida battled and survived cancer in the 2000s.
In his continued efforts to reform immigration, Gutiérrez has participated in acts of non-violent civil disobedience outside of the White House. The first took place on May 1, 2010, where, following a speech delivered to hundreds at Lafayette Park, Gutiérrez marched with protesters to the White House and refused to leave until Presidential action was taken on immigration reform or he was arrested. Many of the protesters who joined Gutiérrez had signs that called for a Presidential moratorium on deportation and criticized recent anti-immigrant legislation passed in Arizona – SB 1070. Gutiérrez also joined the protesters in criticizing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to sign the measure allowing racial profiling in the state-level enforcement of immigration laws.
On July 26, 2011, in response to a record-breaking one-million deportations under President Obama, and the President’s continued refusal to stop deportations of DREAM Act eligible youth, Gutiérrez and eleven labor, faith, and civil rights leaders were arrested outside the White House. A crowd of 2,500 came to support Gutiérrez and the eleven other leaders. A day before the arrest, President Obama sent a letter to Gutiérrez in which he stated that he would continue his administration’s deportation policy.
In 2009 and again in 2011, Gutiérrez went on a nationwide tour in support of comprehensive immigration reform and a moratorium on the deportation of families. The tours have received widespread media attention and helped revive the nationwide discussion on immigration reform. Gutiérrez was the main speaker at the historic March 21, 2010, March for America rally at the capitol mall attended by over 200,000 people. Gutiérrez was the first elected official to sponsor a version of the DREAM Act – legislation to allow undocumented youth brought to the United States as minors a pathway to citizenship – in 2001. In 2009 Gutiérrez introduced CIR-ASAP – Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act – a bill to create a pathway to citizenship for non-criminal undocumented immigrants and improve border security. The bill received over 100 co-sponsors and was endorsed by members of the business community and organized labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Service Employees International Union.