Representative Steve King's assertion that there are 100 drug mules for every "DREAMer" who's a valedictorian continues to reverberate across the country. National television networks and blogs have chewed over the story, and many politicians have condemned King's statement, including House Speaker John Boehner.
King stands by his comments and claims that the intense criticism proves he has "won the debate" over immigration policy. Yet a new poll of residents in Iowa's fourth Congressional district suggests that King is out of step even with his own constituents.
Follow me after the jump for details on that poll and a roundup of reaction to King's words about undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.
To recap for those who have been under a rock the last few days, here's what King said during his Newsmax interview first published on July 18. Speaking about undocumented immigrants who first entered the U.S. as children, he said,
"Some of them are valedictorians - and their parents brought them in. It wasn't their fault. It's true in some cases, but they aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents.
"For everyone who's a valedictorian, 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," King tells Newsmax. "Those people would be legalized with the same act."
Those comments reached a broader audience on Tuesday, after considerable coverage of King's recent interview with Univision journalist Jorge Ramos. (Bleeding Heartland user rpwillman commented on that interview here. ABC News and Univision later broadcast the full clip of King's comments comparing immigrants to the pick of the litter, about which he and Ramos sparred during the interview.)
Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson caught up with King Tuesday night and posted the audio and transcript of her interview. Excerpt:
"It seems as though I have a few critics out there, but those who have been advocating for the DREAM Act have been trying to make it about valedictorians...I don't disagree that there are DREAMers that are valedictorians, but it also would legalize those that are smuggling drugs into the United States. I made a comment in an interview last week....to Newsmax...and I said: 'For every valedictorian, you have a hundred 130-pound drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes.' And that comes from being down on the border, spending days and nights down there in multiple trips and time with the Border Patrol...That description essentially came from them.
"...It's not something that I'm making up. This is real. We have people that are mules, that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they've been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back and if those who advocate for the DREAM Act, if they choose to characterize this about valedictorians, I gave them a different image that we need to be thinking about because we just simply can't be passing legislation looking only at one component of what would be millions of people."
In any ethnic group, only a small percentage of people will be valedictorians. But it doesn't follow that the majority are law-breakers. King fails to recognize that his "100 to 1" comment fostered a hateful stereotype about Latinos as criminals. He tweeted out a link to this Breitbart "News" story citing a few stories about children working as drug mules. He also stood his ground during a July 24 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
"You get one valedictorian per class per year," he said on AC360. "Every night there are dozens and scores of people that are smuggling drugs across our border. I've been down there multiple times. I've sat along the border at night."
Noting the officers he's met while on the border, King claimed that his assertion is factual.
"This isn't something made up in thin air," he said. "I've seen it with my eyes and watched the data and video that support what I say, and the longer this dialogue goes, the more the American people will understand what I'm saying is factually correct."
But those are just anecdotes. King hasn't shown any evidence that drug mules outnumber law-abiding young people who were brought to this country illegally. Why should the majority of DREAMers be forced into the shadow economy, denied educational and work opportunities for the rest of their lives, because people doing border patrol have found other children bringing drugs into the country?
King doesn't typically back away from a firestorm, and this case is no exception:
King told Breitbart News on Wednesday afternoon in response to the attacks from the establishment that he thinks this is a sign conservatives fighting against amnesty for illegal aliens are winning politically. "You know when people attack you-in this business, when you're in this business, you know that when people attack you, and they call you names, they're diverting from the topic matter," King said in a phone interview. "You know they've lost the debate when they do that. We've talked about it for years. Tom Tancredo and I joked about it that that's the pattern. When people start calling you names, that's what confirms you've won the debate."
On June 23, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner released statements condemning King's comments in the Newsmax interview--an unusual step. Today Boehner released a second statement on the topic. His frustration is palpable.
"I want to be clear, there's no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials," said Boehner, who first excoriated King's language in a statement Tuesday night. "Earlier this week Rep. Steve King made comments that I think are deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party."
Boehner acknowledged that comments like King's complicate Republicans' efforts to pass legislation through the House to address the issue of illegal immigration.
"It does make it more difficult but I'm going to continue to work with members who want to get to a solution as a opposed to doing nothing at all," he said.
Talk is cheap, Mr. Speaker. You emboldened people like King when you promised not to bring up the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate, or any other immigration bill not backed by a majority of the House Republican caucus.
King has good reason to feel confident that he is winning the debate in Congress over this issue.
However, King is wrong to think that the American people or even his own constituents share his opposition to legal status or a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants. The Des Moines Register's Iowa polls conducted in February and June of this year indicated that a majority of Iowans support a path to citizenship under certain conditions.
Yesterday Politico's Seung Min Kim was first to report on a new poll of Iowa's fourth Congressional district, conducted by the Tarrance Group on behalf of the American Action Network. Click here for the full polling memo. From Politico's article:
A poll being released later Wednesday by the American Action Network shows that 68 percent of voters in Iowa's Fourth Congressional District supports an "earned pathway to legal status," while 65 percent support an "earned pathway to citizenship."
Of the Republican voters in King's district, 70 percent back a path to legal status, while 51 percent back a pathway to citizenship.
The American Action Network is a conservative outside group that has been among the most prominent organizations advocating for immigration reform.
Support for a path to legalization goes even higher when specific requirements for that legal status is outlined, the poll finds.
The Tarrance Group surveyed 300 "likely" registered voters across IA-04 between June 24 and 27, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8 percent.
King's Democratic challenger, Jim Mowrer, seized the opportunity to have potential supporters sign a petition demanding an apology from King. He also appeared on an MSNBC program as part of a segment asking rhetorically, "Is Steve King the new face of GOP extremism?"
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan asked an important question in his statement released on July 23:
"Steve King's comments are offensive, ridiculous, and go against the very values of respect and equality that Iowans hold dear. Yet, while Iowans have grown weary of these comments from Steve King, he continues to be the face of the Iowa Republican Party, and is consistently held up at their conservative standard-bearer. Republicans may try to rebrand themselves, but Steve King shows us their true stripes.
"The question is - do other Iowa Republicans stand with Steve King or will they condemn his offensive remarks? Do the candidates for US Senate share King's views or will they denounce them? Does Congressman Latham? Does Governor Branstad? These are the questions that must be asked, and Iowans deserve an answer."
I haven't seen any official comment on this issue from Governor Branstad, Latham, or the Iowa GOP leadership. UPDATE: Scroll down for comments from Branstad's communications director. To read the state party's twitter feed, you'd never guess that King has figured in the national conversation this week. A staffer in Latham's office provided this non-response to the Des Moines Register:
"Congressman Latham believes that we have heard heated and unfortunate language as Americans continue debating immigration policies and reform proposals," spokesman James Carstensen said in a statement. "It is his prayer that all sides can continue this important discussion with the knowledge that every human being has worth in God's eyes."
It would be more helpful to know whether Latham shares King's opposition to any immigration reform bill including a path to citizenship or legal status for undocumented immigrants.
"I agree that these (comments) are offensive and damaging to Iowa's reputation as a welcoming, inclusive land of opportunity where the American Dream is still alive," he said. "Sadly, Steve got exactly what he wanted, and that is attention."
Hard to argue with that.
One of the most poignant reactions came from State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic, a possible Democratic candidate in the first Congressional district. She posted the following comment on her Facebook page:
My parents brought my sister and I to this country 16 years ago from a war-torn country for a better opportunity and a second shot at life. They instilled in me that through hard work anything is possible in this country. My dad worked two jobs to help me go to college so I can realize my American Dream. As an immigrant myself I find Rep. King's comments offensive and ignorant, and as a proud Iowan I find them nothing short of shameful. He's a prime example of what's wrong with Washington.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: Jordan Fabian of ABC News published a fact check of King's comments.
Simply put, drug smugglers aren't eligible for legalization under the latest immigration proposals.
The Senate's immigration bill contains a DREAM Act provision that would allow certain young undocumented immigrants who have attended college or served in the military to earn permanent legal status in just five years, compared to 10 years for others.
But all undocumented immigrants, young and old, must pass a background check in order to gain temporary legal status, which puts them on the track to citizenship. Immigrants are rendered ineligible if they have committed a felony or three misdemeanors.
Crossing the border illegally with the amount of drugs that King described -- 75 pounds of marijuana -- would count as a felony and bar an immigrant from obtaining legal status, according to David Leopold, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
But it wouldn't even take that much to keep an undocumented immigrant from becoming legalized. The bill would maintain current law and prohibit even lesser "drug offenders from qualifying [f]or benefits under the immigration reform package," Leopold said in an email.
And to obtain permanent legal status, young undocumented immigrants eligible under the DREAM Act must complete another background check "to determine whether there was any criminal, national security, or other factor that would render the alien ineligible for such status," the Senate bill says.
SECOND UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs reported for the Des Moines Register on July 25 that Branstad dodged a question about this controversy on Wednesday.
"No, I am not going to get involved in that. I am not going to get involved in that whatsoever," Branstad said. "No, I am not going to get involved in every controversy."
Today the governor's office had this to say:
"Governor Branstad has great respect for Congressman King and considers him a friend, however the governor does not agree with the congressman's remarks," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in a statement in response to a question from The Des Moines Register.
Albrecht said this morning: "Governor Branstad believes our bipartisan work together in Des Moines can serve as an example to D.C., and hopes all parties will come together to solve the immigration challenge in a bipartisan way."
THIRD UPDATE: On July 25 Iowa Democratic Party called attention to the silence of Iowa Republicans even as other GOP politicians around the country denounce King's sentiments. Excerpt from the press release:
Iowa Republicans Refusing to Condemn Steve King:
Gov. Terry Branstad: disagrees with King's comments, but "has great respect for him"
Sen. Chuck Grassley: silent
Rep. Tom Latham: silent
Sen. Candidate Sam Clovis: silent
Sen. Candidate Matt Whitaker: silent
State Sen. Joni Ernst: silent
Sen. Candidate Mark Jacobs: silent
Sen. Candidate David Young: dodged the question
Senate Candidate Mark Schaben: silent
Who can be surprised? The Republican base loves King.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee ludicrously bashes Bruce Braley for not condemning the "war on women" conducted by various Democratic politicians in New York or California.
LATE UPDATE: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker has not posted anything about this controversy on his Facebook page, but he gave this comment to the Des Moines Register.
"I know and like Congressman King, but I disagree with his recent remarks. Both sides of the immigration debate need to talk less and get more done. That is what I am hearing from Iowans."
Whitaker noted that he prosecuted cases involving both drug smuggling and illegal immigration. "What I know is that the immigration system is broken and needs comprehensive reform. Let's immediately pass the things we can all agree on, like increased border security and legal immigration reform that allows the best and the brightest from around the world to become U.S. citizens legally."
On July 29, the bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City criticized King's comments.
"I am disappointed by Rep. King's remarks, which speak of migrants in a way that undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God," Rev. R. Walker Nickless said in a statement. "While Catholics may disagree on the specific approach to reforming the immigration system, they should agree that the immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and humane manner." [...]
The U.S. House of Representatives needs to address the immigration issue, Nickless said.
"I support common sense reform that provides a reasonable path to citizenship for the undocumented and promotes family unity," Nickless said.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler gave King "four Pinnochios" for his claims:
Even King seems to realize the numbers don't add up. In his CNN interview, King tried to back off the ratio, while at the same time asserting he was still right.
"I wasn't talking about the ratio. Border Patrol agents don't know how many valedictorians we have that are also 'DREAMers.' In fact, I don't know that the public knows either," he said. "But I can tell you it's not nearly as many as the advocates for the DREAM Act would like to have you believe."
Of course, he offered no evidence for why the percentage of valedictorians among "DREAMers" would be any less than in the general population.
The Pinocchio Test
King's claim about valedictorians and smugglers is a nonsense fact, designed to suggest an aura of authenticity to an otherwise objectionable statement. It appears King heard something, from someone he has not named, and had blown it into "facts" for which he feels little need to provide evidence.
We would certainly revisit this issue if King supplies us with additional material to bolster his claim. If a politician is going to say stuff like this, he or she has to be prepared to back it up with actual facts.
I think Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Jennifer Hemmingsen nailed it in her latest piece, "Steve King takes immigration outrage to the bank."
A lot of people really do worry immigration reform will open the floodgates to criminals (the proposed DREAM Act requires applicants be of "good moral character"), but once again, their legitimate concerns were lost in King's bro-flavored standup routine.
That's no skin off King's nose - so long as a humorless few take the bait. For a guy like King, any publicity is good publicity.
So here we are again, the country shaking its collective head and wondering what voters could possibly see in this guy: This embarrassing relation. The Archie Bunker of Sac County.
Here we are again, with King milking the outrage he earned, casting himself as a victim to political correctness. Throwing a wink at constituents and whispering, his hand on their wallets: "Jeez. What's wrong with them?"
It might not be all that sinister or sophisticated, but it sure is getting tiresome. The voters in King's district can do better.