WASHINGTON — Political discussion in the nation’s capital has been dominated this week by the latest controversial statements about illegal immigration from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
The Hill newspaper reported that some young immigrants showed up at King’s Capitol Hill office on Thursday with cantaloupes in protest of his recent comments to the conservative website Newsmax.
In that interview, King said he sympathized with those who were brought into the country illegally as young children, worked hard and grew up to be valedictorians.
But he indicated the ranks of those immigrants are far outnumbered by others who cross the border as drug mules.
“For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another hundred out there that — they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said.
The small group of immigrants who showed up at King’s office are advocates with United We Dream, according to the Hill.
“Today, we wanted to talk to the congressman to tell him that the comments he is making are unacceptable, that our legs are not the size of cantaloupes, that even if they are, we are not drug runners, that we are here as students and he needs to stop making these comments,” said Maricela Aguilar, a 22-year-old who lives in Wisconsin without legal documents.
King’s comments ignited a firestorm of criticism, with condemnations coming from across the political spectrum.
The White House, the Iowa Democratic Party and others on the left have blasted King’s statements, but so have many within his own party, including top officials such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner quickly released a statement early in the week criticizing King’s comments and then made a point of leading off his weekly press conference on Thursday with a fresh rebuke.
He said that King’s comments were “deeply offensive and wrong” and that they reflected neither the values of the American people nor the Republican Party.
“There’s no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials,” Boehner said.
Despite the drumbeat of criticism, King continued to stand by his comments and said his opponents don’t have the evidence to prove he’s wrong.
He delivered a nearly half-hour, wide-ranging floor speech Thursday in which he touched on Moses, Jesus, ancient Greek society, the rule of law and American values.
He reiterated his belief that many people are bringing drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Eighty to 90 percent of the illegal drugs consumed in America come from or through Mexico,” King said. “I can tell you that in Mexico they are recruiting kids to be drug smugglers.”
He said news reports are replete with stories of the drug smuggling. He said that heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine “are being strapped to the bodies, sometimes, of young girls, teenage girls.”
The House last month approved a proposal offered by King to roll back the administration’s policy of discretion on those brought into the country as young children, the so-called DREAMers. That amendment was supported by Nebraska’s all-GOP House delegation and Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.
But Republicans were not rushing to King’s defense this week. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., called out King for crossing the line with his statements.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., noted that he opposed the version of immigration legislation approved by the Senate, but he still took issue with King.
“It’s flashpoint rhetoric, and it just doesn’t help, it doesn’t help the debate,” Johanns said.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Iowa has a positive reputation when it comes to immigrants in part because it was an early state to accept refugees from Vietnam after the end of the war there.
“It’s a shame to see that kind of aura that we had, that kind of standing that we had, kind of done in by some insensitive comments, untoward comments by one of our political leaders,” Harkin said.
He said he had always felt positive about the role of immigrants in Iowa.
“They don’t deserve to be degraded, and neither does the state of Iowa,” Harkin said. “We’re better than that. We’re much better than engaging in any kind of hurtful language, degrading language, about people who are just coming here to work.”
This report contains material from the Hill.
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