Leading Latino congressman: King should keep talking
September 23, 2013
A veteran Chicago congressman shaping the raging immigration debate says he has a powerful accidental ally in U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
"Every time he opens his mouth, he helps the pro-immigrant movement in this nation," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, an 11-term Democrat, said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald in his Washington, D.C., offices.
More than galvanize xenophobes, King demonstrates the lack of credibility in the argument to stop reform, said Gutiérrez, chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus's task force on immigration.
King, who represents Iowa's sprawling 4th District, much of it in western Iowa, has built a national brand largely with controversial statements about immigrants.
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the bishops' conference, said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald, that King has unwittingly served as an advocate for immigration reform by making colorful statements in opposition to a path to a citizenship.
"I can't agree with them more," Gutiérrez said. "The fact is that today Steve King has less credibility now - not that he had very much. Whatever credibility he did have in the Republican caucus, he is so radical and so just out there, that there are people today that come to me and say, 'I want to get comprehensive immigration reform.' There are Republicans today that are more apt to vote for comprehensive immigration reform than they were before his latest comments."
King told the conservative news website Newsmax in July that he didn't agree with the suggestion that many youths who aren't legal citizens are also high-achieving.
"For every one 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," King said.
At a Sept. 13 rally in Omaha, Neb., King said undocumented immigrants had killed "multiples of the victims of Sept. 11" in the United States.
These inflammatory remarks serve as something of a mirror for other Republicans, Gutiérrez said.
"He compels people to have to look at themselves and examine themselves and to ask themselves, 'Do I really want to be an ally with people who speak this way, who hold these kinds of opinions? Do I really want to align myself?" Gutiérrez said. "And people go, 'Not really.' This happens to our great fortune, not only to consolidate Democrats, but to consolidate moderate Republicans, which we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
A native of Chicago with family roots in Puerto Rico, Gutiérrez took issue with comments WHO-Radio talk-host Simon Conway made about undocumented workers. At a Republican fundraiser in Carroll on Sept. 10 Conway said path-to-citizenship plans will disadvantage American-born workers.
"They're coming for our jobs, ladies and gentlemen," Conway said.
The line drew sustained applause from Republican activists. But Gutiérrez said Iowans should think twice before supporting such sentiments.
"Since agriculture is to Iowa what air is to human beings - we cannot live - he should understand the idiocy of his comment," Gutiérrez said. "Any farmer that applauds the lack of immigrants in this country, and their contribution, is only being very self-destructive against his own self-interest."
The vast majority of agricultural workers in the United States are undocumented, and most weren't born here, Gutiérrez said.
"You're either going to have food picked in foreign countries by foreign hands, served on your dining room table, or we can have the food picked here in this country by foreign hands," Gutiérrez said. "You're just going to have to make a decision. Because either way, they're going to be picked my foreign hands. I mean, come on, where's the line of American citizens that wants to go pick tomatoes, lettuce? Where's the line that wants to go pick grapes, cherries? Where's the line?"
Gutiérrez said he has been to Iowa meatpacking facilities, and that the foreign-born workers in the plants have played a crucial role in the economies of many Hawkeye State communities.
"It built their stores up," he said. "It built their restaurants up. It built their housing up. It put money in their city treasury."
Gutiérrez added, "Just look in your own backyard."
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