CHICAGO (AP) — Longtime U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a Democratic party leader on efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, is scheduled to announce Tuesday that he’s retiring after 13 terms in office and won’t seek re-election next year.
His decision was confirmed by a Washington Democrat on condition of anonymity because the congressman had yet to announce his decision. Gutierrez’s Tuesday schedule included an afternoon Chicago news conference to make a “major announcement regarding the March 2018 Democratic Primary election and the national political landscape.”
Messages to a Gutierrez spokesman weren’t returned.
Word of retirement came as a surprise, especially since Gutierrez, 63, filed candidate petitions for the Illinois primary with the State Board of Elections a day earlier. The late announcement gives potential successors to his predominantly Hispanic Chicago-area district less than a week to gather signatures to get on the March 20 ballot.
Gutierrez, first elected in 1992, is a leading member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has become one of the most visible figures in the push for immigration reform. He’s been arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House and federal immigration offices numerous times, has backed legislation to help young people brought to the country illegally and has called for more English language proficiency programs and citizenship workshops. In immigrant circles and in his district, Gutierrez remains very popular and has easily won re-election over the years. His office has run robust constituent services, with immigrants nationwide seeking his help on their cases.
The congressman has clashed repeatedly with President Donald Trump, accusing him of committing “deep, permanent damage to the United States.” Gutierrez is among a small handful of House Democrats who have signed onto a largely symbolic effort to impeach Trump.
But Gutierrez was also critical of former President Barack Obama, whom he supported, for not halting deportations or doing enough on immigration reform.
In a 2013 memoir covering Gutierrez’s experiences about his early life in Chicago politics as an organizer and alderman, he described how he has always identified with the immigrant experience.
Though born and raised in Chicago with parents from Puerto Rico, he’s talked about how his family faced similar challenges as immigrants, saying they struggled with English and were treated like foreigners.
“It’s almost as though my life was a training for the ultimate battle of winning comprehensive immigration reform,” he told The Associated Press in 2013.
In recent months, Gutierrez, who maintains close ties in Puerto Rico, has pushed for federal aid to help rebuild after Hurricane Maria and brought relief supplies to the storm-ravaged territory.
Gutierrez’s expected announcement raised questions about his political future.
He has previously flirted with a run for Chicago mayor, circulating petitions ahead of the 2011 election before deciding to sit out the race. The next city election is in 2019. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff under Obama, has said he’s planning on a bid for a third term.
With just days until major party candidate petitions are due for the Illinois primary, candidates began jockeying ahead of Gutierrez’s announcement. Democrats trying to replace him need over 800 signatures; the requirement for Republicans in the Democratic stronghold is far less.
Gutierrez was scheduled to appear at Tuesday’s news conference with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who forced Emanuel into a mayoral runoff election in 2015. Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is also considering a run for Gutierrez’s seat.
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