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Gutierrez says he’s unfairly attacked over immigration reform

Opinions about immigration reform have become so fiercely divided on Capitol Hill that Rep. Luis Gutierrez jokingly tells his staff to direct callers to “press one to curse and leave death threats.”

“I’ve been told to go back to Mexico so many times, I forgot I was born in Chicago,” the Chicago Democrat said, speaking to a lunch-time crowd Monday at the City Club of Chicago downtown. “Or that my parents were originally from Puerto Rico.”

Gutierrez, a longtime advocate for immigration rights, last week publicly blasted a Republican-backed effort to block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration — part of which allows hundreds of thousands of parents here illegally the opportunity to stay in the United States with their children who were born here and are citizens.

Gutierrez said his words on the issue have been twisted and misstated to such an extent that one caller to his Washington, D.C., office said he’d “heard on talk radio that I was telling illegal immigrants to sign up for [the terrorist group] ISIS so that they can kill Americans.”

The congressman said, repeating a familiar refrain, that Republicans oppose immigration reform at their peril.

“The reality is no one has been working harder than I have to help the Republican Party resolve this issue and to help them not to commit suicide as a national party because they are driving away the fastest-growing group of citizens in the American electorate  — Latinos,” Gutierrez said.

About one third of House Republicans want to find a solution to the country’s immigration problems, he said.

“But they are finding it almost impossible to contend with the part of the party that opposes legal immigration,” he said.

Gutierrez joked that he longed for his days as a city alderman.

“When Washington makes you long for the calm days of the Chicago City Council wars of the [19]80s, it has really gotten bad,” he said.