Two senior Senate Democrats paid a visit to Republican Rep. Steve King's Iowa House district Friday to counter his inflammatory comments about young immigrants known as DREAMers.
"The suggestion that these are petty criminals or drug smugglers, it just doesn't square with the reality of the DREAM Act, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin.
King has insisted that young immigrant children often serve as drug smugglers, saying in one interview that many have "calves the size of cantaloupes." Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have repudiated those remarks. Durbin, the majority whip, joined Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, for a forum in Ames, located in King's district.
"We do have a lot in common: a lot of corn and soybeans in our neighboring states, a lot of immigrants to our neighboring states who built it into what it is today in Iowa and in Illinois, and we have a broken immigration system," Durbin said. "It is time for us to face the reality that if we can fix this immigration system, we can build the American economy, and we can do the right thing."
Durbin began by retelling a story that's familiar to any observer of the Senate floor. That's the case of Tereza Lee, the young Korean immigrant whose family called Durbin's office seeking help sorting out her immigration status, only to confirm that under the law in effect at the time, she would need to leave the country.
It was Lee's tale that originally led Durbin to introduce the DREAM Act a dozen years ago. The legislation would provide a way for immigrants who came to the United States as children to become citizens. A version of that measure is included in the Senate-passed immigration overhaul that Durbin helped craft as one of the "gang of eight" senators.
Harkin, meanwhile, countered his fellow Iowan.
"I want to reassure Sen. Durbin, and anyone else who may be tuned in on this, that we Iowans, we Iowans are a welcoming people. We are a compassionate and caring people," Harkin said. "We do not believe in characterizing people with hateful, spiteful, degrading language. We believe that every human being has worth, and we believe those who want to come here to work to build a better life are not criminals. They are people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families, and we ought to be finding a way to help them do that here in America, and here in the state of Iowa."
Durbin and Harkin both cited recently polling that a clear majority of residents of King's Congressional district (upward of two-thirds) favor a path to legal status.
Voters in Iowa's 4th District easily reelected King in 2012, where he defeated Christie Vilsack — the wife of current Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack — by 8 points.
"Even in this Congressional district, the people in this district want immigration reform. They want this mess cleared up," Harkin said Friday. "They want these young DREAMers to have a part in our society, and just because one ... misguided person uses language that is degrading, does not reflect what we believe in."