GOP members have condemned Rep. King’s remarks on Dreamers and drugs, most House members voted for his bill to defund deferred deportation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Opinion: Steve King cannot be dismissed as ‘extremist,’ House approved his measure

Congressman Steve King (R-IO) set off a firestorm this week with his recent remarks about immigrants.  Speaking about the DREAMers, he said, “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”  He cited unnamed members of the Border Patrol as his source for this information.  In response, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) denounced King’s words as “hateful language.”

King’s comments are inaccurate as well as offensive to Latinos and immigrants.  Anti-immigrant sentiment, however, is nothing new for the Iowa congressman.  Unfortunately for the GOP, King cannot be dismissed as an extremist; he is one of the most prominent Republican voices on immigration.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) termed King’s remarks “inexcusable.”  Yet among House Republicans, King is not an outlier on immigration.  In June, King introduced a measure to defund President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).  It passed in the House, with all but 6 since Republicans voting for it.  So King may differ from other GOP leaders in terms of rhetoric, but his positions are mainstream positions in the House.  On immigration, King might even carry more influence than Boehner.  Consider that King’s comments overshadowed the news this week that the House is taking up their own version of the DREAM Act, known as the KIDS Act.

King’s visibility should be worrisome for the GOP, which is still trying to rebrand itself to Hispanics after their disastrous showing in the 2012 presidential election. Latino Decisions reports that ugly rhetoric on immigration makes an impact on Hispanic voters.  When presented with examples of anti-immigrant comments, 66 percent of Latino voters believed that they represented the overall views of the Republican Party.

Yes, King has the right to oppose immigration reform.  That doesn’t give him license to promote stories with little basis in reality.

King did not provide any evidence for his assertions, which puts him in the same league as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and her claims of beheadings in the desert, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and her stories about supposedly dangerous vaccinesWhile GOP leaders were quick to criticize King, he later doubled down on his “drug mules” comments in an interview with Radio Iowa.  “When people start calling you names, that’s what confirms you’ve won the debate,” he said Wednesday.  But no one has been calling him names; people have simply been calling him out for his harmful comments.

King has a history of racially incendiary remarks.  He has compared undocumented immigrants to dogs, and insisted that it was a compliment.  He has compared undocumented immigrants to cattle.  He has likened illegal immigration to the Holocaust.  For years King has pushed legislation to change the Fourteenth Amendment, to end birthright citizenship for what he calls “Anchor Babies.”  Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post has written that he “personifies the stereotypical anti-immigration right winger,” with a tone that is “vile.”

It’s important to note King does not speak for his fellow Iowans, the majority of whom favor a path to citizenship for the undocumented along with border security.  On immigration, he doesn’t even speak for the voters in his own district.  A new poll by the American Action Network finds that 65 percent of the voters in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District support an “earned pathway to citizenship” for the undocumented.  Instead of defaming young immigrants who want to contribute to this country, King should listen to the voters who elected him.

King’s words were irresponsible, indefensible and divisive.  And while the Iowa Congressman might be harmful to immigration reform now, the greater danger for Republicans is that he may prove equally destructive for the GOP in the future.

Opinion: Steve King cannot be dismissed as extremist, House approved his measure    raul reyes nbc final1 e1370809324282 politics NBC Latino News

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.

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