Though the two Chicago Democrats were once close, Gutierrez has spent much of the past two years badgering the president on the issue. “He was clear in his commitment to me,” says Gutierrez. And yet “everything has been enforcement, enforcement, enforcement”—more deportations of undocumented immigrants, more troops |on the border. “How,” asks Gutierrez, “is this different from what George W. Bush did?”

Gutierrez, 56, is the most passionate, tireless, and nettlesome voice in Congress on immigration matters. He’s a constant presence at rallies and on TV, defending the undocumented and railing against xenophobia. It’s no surprise that a recent Pew Hispanic Center survey ranked him the second-most-important Latino leader in the country, after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “He’s as close as the Latino community has to a Martin Luther King figure,” says Frank Sharry, founder of the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice. Yet Gutierrez’s tactics are controversial. While many admire his tenacity and credit him with keeping immigration reform alive, others, including members of the Obama administration, believe his confrontational style can be counterproductive. He sees things more simply. “I have only one loyalty,” he says, “and that’s to the immigrant community.”