Imagine if Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King had referenced some particular body part when criticizing young African, Italian, Irish or Israeli immigrants, suggesting that something about the kids reminded him of a food group; say watermelons or bananas, potatoes or pasta. As your mind races, it will come up with invariably ugly possibilities; which makes the point of how obscene and racist Rep. King’s statement was when he used cantaloupes to make a vicious argument against President Obama’s leniency toward undocumented Latino youngsters.
He said infamously that for every valedictorian among them, “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.”
Let us not forget that Mr. King led the Speaker and virtually the entire Republican caucus by the nose two months ago, convincing them to void legislatively President Obama’s Executive Order to the Department of Homeland Security to delay deportations.
His inference that 99 percent of young immigrants are drug mules was chastised as “ignorant” and “wrong” even by his boss House Speaker John Boehner. But King is unrepentant, backing off only slightly on Thursday when he told ABC News, “We have young people that are being recruited from age 11 on up to increasingly smuggle drugs into the United States,” King said without citing his source. “We seem to want to be ignorant of that because there’s such a desire to pass a DREAM Act, which would include some valedictorians. We’re all sympathetic to those valedictorians, but it isn’t all going to be valedictorians.”
How can Republicans ever hope to court the Latino vote in this country while allowing this Jim Crow throwback to occupy an influential position on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, charged with crafting immigration policy? And despite Speaker Boehner’s welcome condemnation of the “cantaloupe” slur, let us not forget that Mr. King led the Speaker and virtually the entire Republican caucus by the nose two months ago, convincing them to void legislatively President Obama’s Executive Order to the Department of Homeland Security to delay deportations for otherwise law-abiding young, undocumented immigrants.
Cantaloupe King’s amendment to throw them all out of the country passed the House 224-201, with only six Republicans opposed. Speaker Boehner was not one of the six heroes. In backing King, the GOP leadership argued that they weren’t voting against the kids, they were voting against the arrogant president who did an end run around the legislative process in deferring the deportations. They may be right about President Obama’s motives. Maybe he did it just to get the Latino vote last November. But if you’re a kid being deported the politics are irrelevant. One party wants you thrown out, the other wants you to stay in the only country you have ever known.
I got a good laugh Thursday afternoon when I heard about the stunt pulled on King and Company by dozens of young undocumented immigrants who hand-delivered cantaloupes to the 221 Republicans and three Democrats who voted for the amendment to defund the president’s program to halt deportations.
The activists from groups like United We Dream and the United Farm Workers attached a message to every piece of fruit. It read, “This cantaloupe was picked by immigrants in California. You gave Steve King a vote. Give us a vote for citizenship.” As far as I know, Rep. King was not in his office to receive his fruit basket. But after another sit-in type demonstration in his office last week, he tweeted how “20 brazen self-professed illegal aliens have just invaded my DC office.” And about how, “Obama’s lawless order (to defer deportation for law-abiding youngsters brought here as children) gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law,” which of course is also untrue.
On my radio show Thursday, eloquent Hispanic Republican activist Ana Navarro saw a silver lining to King’s radical nativism, stating the proposition that the congressman’s views are so out of touch with mainstream thinking in America, including Iowa, that it would strengthen the hand of moderate Republicans in the ongoing debate over immigration reform. She may be right. If she is not, look for the cantaloupe to be a powerful symbol in get-out-the-vote campaigns for the next few election cycles.