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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Rep. Gutiérrez Responds to President’s Tweets on Puerto Rico, Challenges His Colleagues

October 12, 2017
Press Release
“How long do we have to stay, Mr. President? Until every Puerto Rican name is taken off of the Vietnam Memorial or erased from the records of Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq. We stay as long as it takes.”
Issues: 

Washington, DC – For the second day in a row, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor about Puerto Rico, today responding to Tweets this morning from the President suggesting it was time for FEMA and the U.S. military to pull out of Puerto Rico’s recovery effort.  Rep. Gutiérrez responded to the President with a question and an answer:

How long do we have to stay, Mr. President? Until every Puerto Rican name is taken off of the Vietnam Memorial or erased from the records of Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq.  We stay as long as it takes.

Now three weeks into the Puerto Rico crisis, Rep. Gutiérrez compared the effort in Puerto Rico to our rescue mission to evacuate U.S. citizens from St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma and even to the progress we made in the first three weeks after D-Day in 1944.

Thirty six hours to get evacuated from St. Maarten.  Three weeks in Puerto Rico and still no plan for evacuation….

Three weeks after D-Day in 1944, the Allies liberated the deep water port of Cherbourg, one of the most important objectives in France.  It took 20 days and we built bridges and communication lines along the way.  We made better progress in the three weeks after D-Day than we are making on Puerto Rico, and in Puerto Rico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no Germans shooting at us.

Rep. Gutiérrez also chided his colleagues who are visiting Puerto Rico on Congressional Delegations this weekend:

This weekend, Members of Congress are going to Puerto Rico and I spoke with a few of them and I was saying, hey, at night you should go to this place where it is really bad… And he cut me off and said, oh, we’re not staying overnight.  So an island where 85% of the power is out and our Members of Congress are only going to see things during the day?  Not during the pitch black darkness, which is what Puerto Ricans are living with every single night for three weeks. 

Congressman Gutiérrez concluded by saying:

Regardless of what my colleagues see during the day or what the President tweets in the morning, my friends who stand in line for hours for food if they can find it, my constituents worried about their family members, and 5 million Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora have run out of patience and we want our people to be free. 

Mr. Speaker, my constituents want the government’s help to get their families out.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  He was born in Chicago to parents who migrated from Puerto Rico to the mainland and has lived in Puerto Rico at various points in his life.  He is traveling to Puerto Rico again next week and plans to stay overnight.

A video of the Congressman’s speech today is here: https://youtu.be/iErDzQdPJtU

The Text as prepared for delivery is here:

Floor Speech

October 12, 2017

A little over a month ago, Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and hit the island of St. Maarten very, very hard.

Within a couple of days, I got a call from the loved ones of a couple of constituents.  They had family members trapped at a hotel on St. Maarten with dozens of other Americans.  The power was out, they were running out of food and water, and incidents of looting were reported.  So they called me, their Member of Congress.

And I called the State Department to see what could be done.

Within 36 hours of my call, our U.S. citizens – nearly 150 of them – were evacuated - from an island, in the ocean, surrounded by water. 

And do you know where they were taken for safety?

Puerto Rico.

Yes, Puerto Rico, where it has now been three weeks since Hurricane Maria, and most people do not have power or clean drinking water and where the deterioration of the health care system is leaving people without critical treatments and causing the death toll to go up.

Now in St. Maarten, this is what the State Department said, according to NBC News: "Evacuation efforts will prioritize U.S. citizens needing urgent medical care.” And within a few days they had evacuated 1200 Americans.

So right now, if a thousand U.S. citizens are facing danger in Japan or Ethiopia or Finland, our State Department would arrange to save them.

But we have millions of Americans facing danger in Puerto Rico and we can’t get the same help, not from the military, not from FEMA, and not from the State Department, because, well, they don’t assist U.S. citizens who are on U.S. soil, even if that soil is a colony in the ocean surrounded by water, as our President reminds us.

Thirty six hours to get evacuated from St. Maarten.  Three weeks in Puerto Rico and still no plan for evacuation. 

And this morning the President is tweeting that he wants to pull FEMA and the military out of Puerto Rico.

How long do we have to stay, Mr. President?  Until every Puerto Rican name is taken off of the Vietnam Memorial or erased from the records of Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq.

We stay as long as it takes.

Yesterday, a lot of us received briefings from FEMA, the military and Homeland Security. 

I wanted to know whether FEMA and the military are prepared to take people off the island as we normally do for emergency situations – as we did for Houston, Jacksonville, and New Orleans.

No, the Governor has not asked for help evacuating people, they told me.

I asked how many bridges, even temporary ones, had been constructed on Puerto Rico to replace those destroyed by the hurricane and to allow for the transportation of supplies to more remote areas.

None, Congressman.  Zero.  We have not erected any bridges.

Again, because the Governor has not asked us to.

When I was there, I flew over the town of Maricao in the mountains, well-known for coffee and home to a pharmaceutical factory.  There are six ways in and out of the town and five of those six bridges are gone.

Three weeks after D-Day in 1944, the Allies liberated the deep water port of Cherbourg, one of the most important objectives in France.  It took 20 days and we built bridges and communication lines along the way. 

We made better progress in the three weeks after D-Day than we are making on Puerto Rico, and in Puerto Rico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no Germans shooting at us.

Now, when I asked the officials about evacuating people from the island, they had no real answer. 

But if I remember correctly, FEMA and the military come to us to fund their budget every year.  They are accountable to us.

And we are accountable to our constituents.  Constituents are coming to me – and to many others who have Puerto Ricans in their districts – they are coming to us asking for help to get their families out. 

Mr. Speaker, when will we be able to give these constituents an answer as to why their family members and loved ones are not being evacuated? 

This weekend, Members of Congress are going to Puerto Rico and I spoke with a few of them and I was saying, hey, at night you should go to this place where it is really bad…

And he cut me off and said, oh, we’re not staying overnight.

So an island where 85% of the power is out and our Members of Congress are only going to see things during the day?

Not during the pitch black darkness, which is what Puerto Ricans are living with every single night for three weeks. 

Regardless of what my colleagues see during the day or what the President tweets in the morning, my friends who stand in line for hours for food if they can find it, my constituents worried about their family members, and 5 million Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora have run out of patience and we want our people to be free.

Mr. Speaker, my constituents want the government’s help to get their families out.

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