WASHINGTON — An immigration forum scheduled for this morning in Ames, Iowa, comes as the firestorm rages over recent comments by Rep. Steve King, who characterized those who come into the country illegally as drug smugglers.
Two Democrats, U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Dick Durbin of Illinois, organized the forum to highlight benefits of the DREAM Act.
Harkin rejected the suggestion that the forum was intended to capitalize on the backlash over King's comments, but it's also clear that the controversy will be on everyone's minds.
“I'm not trying to make hay out of Mr. King's egregious remarks,” Harkin said.
“What we're trying to do is to have a forum to demonstrate to Iowans and whatever national press is there that Mr. King does not speak for all Iowans and that we are a gentler, kinder state than what those comments might look like to other people around the country.”
The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for those who were brought into the country illegally by their parents. Harkin said those people shouldn't be denied the opportunity to go to college.
The 10 a.m. forum will be at Ames Middle School. Ames is part of the 4th Congressional District represented by King, a Republican and ardent opponent of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
A recent poll by the conservative group American Action Network found that 65 percent of the voters in King's 4th District support an “earned pathway to citizenship.” The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8 percentage points.
In criticizing immigration legislation in Congress, King told an interviewer that he sympathizes with young people who didn't choose to break the law and have now worked hard to become valedictorians.
But he suggested that valedictorians are only a small segment of those who have crossed the border illegally.
“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,” King said. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”
Protesters delivered cantaloupes Thursday to the Capitol Hill offices of House members who voted earlier this year for King's legislation to roll back the Obama administration's policy of deferring deportations for DREAMers.
Despite criticism from across the political spectrum, King has stood by his comments, saying that critics can't produce any evidence that he's wrong.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has avoided weighing in on his fellow Republican's comments.
“We shouldn't lose sight of the big picture,” he said.