Meet the GOP’s pro-immigration moneyman
Carlos Gutierrez knows what it’s like to be terrified that the universe could suddenly turn against you.
He felt it at age 6, when the Castro regime imprisoned his father.
He felt it at age 12, after the family arrived in the United States and the CIA mistook his father for a Cuban criminal, threatening his family’s standing in this country.
He felt it again, at age 40, when his Mexican-born wife and son were applying for U.S. citizenship after 14 years of waiting.
Gutierrez eventually rose to become chief executive of Kellogg and President George W. Bush’s commerce secretary. But now he worries for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants and is putting his reputation, his energy and his connections behind a new effort to give them a shot at the opportunities he’s enjoyed. And he plans to watch the State of the Union address, hoping that President Obama will convey the same sense of urgency about their fate.
“How must they feel every morning they get up? They’re not sure if they’ll come back home and their children will be forced to live alone,” Gutierrez says, his low voice cutting through the ambient chatter and clinking silverware inside a hotel lounge in downtown D.C. “It’s every single day — that could be the day you’re deported.”
At 59, Gutierrez still looks the part of the chief executive: slicked back salt-and-pepper hair, trim mustache, perfectly tailored navy suit, gold cuff links — a gift from the White House — emblazoned with “President of the United States of America.” He is now a vice chairman at Citigroup, commuting between New York and his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife. Gutierrez — whose net worth is reportedly between $21 million and $93 million — likes to keep his passport on him at all times, tucked inside of his suit jacket. He pays for his drink with the loose bills he’s stuffed into his pockets.
In 2007, he was Bush’s right-hand man in the immigration fight — the president’s primary envoy to the business community and a key ambassador to Capitol Hill. He was devastated by the legislative loss, recalling the undocumented immigrants who were weeping outside the Senate the morning the bipartisan immigration bill failed to pass.
While his family came here legally, Gutierrez sees no legitimate reason to let those who came here illegally languish.
“Yes, of course, I think about the difference between my experience and those who came in without papers,” Gutierrez says. “However, I believe I owe my country to back the best policy without letting personal resentment set in. This is a lot bigger than me.”