Updated 11:07 p.m. | Rep. Steve King is defending his comments that children who were brought to the U.S. illegally don't deserve "amnesty" because they're not "all valedictorians" despite a firestorm of criticism from Republican leaders and Democrats.
Speaker John A. Boehner called the comments "wrong" and his language "hateful." Majority Leader Eric Cantor called them "inexcusable." Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., called the remarks "reprehensible." And Florida Democrat Joe Garcia said they were "beneath the dignity" of a member of Congress.
The Iowa Republican told the conservative website NewsMax last week that he is sympathetic to the situation in which many undocumented children find themselves. But he said those so-called DREAMers are not all created equal.
"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. Those people would be legalized with the same act."
King himself appeared unbowed amid criticism late Tuesday, telling Radio Iowa that he got the physical description "essentially" from the Border Patrol:
"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.”
Cantor also slammed the remarks. "I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable," the Virginia Republican said in a statement.
During a Tuesday House Judiciary hearing on finding a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant children, Garcia denounced King's comments while the Iowa Republican, a fellow panel member, sat in the room.
"When members of this committee, when members of this House, use inflammatory language, use offensive language, it does not help the process," Garcia said, using King's words to Newsmax as an example of rhetoric "beneath the dignity" of Congress. However, Garcia did not explicitly attribute the rhetoric to King himself.
After Garcia finished with his opening statement, King was called upon next for his opening remarks. But he did not show signs of taking offense, nor did he offer any explanation for his comments.
Instead, he spoke broadly against any effort to change the country's immigration system while Democrats controlled Washington and "amnesty" was on the table.
"I think what’s on course here ... is we’ll just move this little sliver here because this one tugs at our heart," King said. "It tugs at my heart, too. But ... we have to uphold the rule of law."
After the hearing, Gowdy, who chairs the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee, called King's comments to Newsmax "reprehensible."