AMES, Iowa (AP) — Kicking off a month of likely intense debate over immigration, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat traveled to Iowa on Friday to rebuke House Republicans who oppose major changes embraced by the Senate.
Sen. Dick Durbin's strategically targeted visit was a fairly small and calm preview of planned demonstrations by opponents and supporters of the proposed immigration changes during Congress' summer recess. The Senate measure would heighten border security and provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living here illegally.
Durbin, of Illinois, joined a fellow Democrat, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, at a forum in a college town represented in Congress by Republican Rep. Steve King. King is among Congress' fiercest opponents of granting citizenship to immigrants now here illegally. Republican leaders have denounced King's most inflammatory remarks, but some Democrats depict him as a symbol of widespread GOP resistance.
Harkin said Iowans “are compassionate, caring people, and we don't characterize people with hateful, spiteful, degrading language.”
King acknowledged in a July interview that some Hispanics brought to the country illegally as children become high school valedictorians. But for each of those, he said, “there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Durbin focused on the DREAM Act, which would offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children.
“If we can fix this immigration system, we can build the American economy and we can do the right thing,” Durbin told the Ames gathering. “To suggest these are petty criminals or drug smugglers just doesn't square with the reality of the DREAM Act.”
The forum featured potential DREAM Act beneficiaries.
Hector Salamanca, 20, came from Mexico as a child with his parents, who stayed in the United States after their tourist visas expired. His undocumented status made him ineligible to attend a state university or receive government-sponsored grants or loans, he told the audience of about 200.
Salamanca said he earned an associate degree at a community college and will attend Drake University in Des Moines.
He said he tells Hispanic youths: “Don't let your undocumented status prevent you from achieving your goals.”
Some House Republicans have expressed interest in a version of the DREAM Act, although King calls it “backdoor amnesty.”
King said he was mourning the death of a Vietnam War hero from Sioux City on Friday rather than responding to Durbin's and Harkin's visit to his district.
The Obama administration and many activist groups have said they will not settle for the DREAM Act alone. They are pressing the GOP-controlled House to embrace something similar to the Senate bill.
Many House Republicans resist the idea. They point to GOP primary voters in their districts who oppose “amnesty” for people here illegally, and who say a Democratic administration can't be trusted to keep promises to tighten the border with Mexico.
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