Sometimes I feel as if Republicans move three steps forward and then one step back with their outreach efforts. It takes one unfortunate and insulting comment made by one Republican member to derail the party's determination to build stronger ties with the Hispanic community.
While Rep. Steve King of Iowa is a strong conservative leader who is right on many issues, he made a huge mistake this week of comparing undocumented immigrants to drug smugglers. He said "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
King later defended his remarks despite being criticized by members of his own party and Democrats alike. He further argued that Republicans should be "critical thinkers" on the issue of immigration, yet his analogy and generalization of undocumented immigrants lacked facts and analysis. He portrayed illegal immigrants as undesirable members of society. The fact is that illegal immigrants work in a variety of sectors in the U.S. economy. According to USA Today in 2006, 21 percent work in the service industries and approximately 19 percent work in construction and other occupations. They work in sales and farming. In other words, the majority of these Hispanic undocumented immigrants want to make a living to feed their families and not smuggle drugs across the border as King suggested.
He would have been wise to talk about the real need for border security to stop drug smugglers rather than creating an inaccurate representation of illegal immigrants who came to this country in search of opportunity and freedom.
For Hispanic Republicans who have long had to deal with those few Republicans who make such offensive comments and hurt the image of our party, we spend a significant amount of time having to clean up their mess. Quite frankly, it gets tiring, but Hispanic Republicans will continue to defend the other 99 percent of Republicans who understand the need to fix the immigration problem and develop a dialogue with the Hispanic community. King's comments are not reflective of the Republican Party at large. Hispanic Republicans and leaders in the party will not allow King to destroy their commitment and hard work in building relationships with Hispanics. For instance, the Republican National Committee is making great progress in building a strong and solid Hispanic outreach effort at a national level. Chairman Reince Priebus has assembled the A-team with top Hispanic Republican political strategist Jennifer Sevilla Korn, Hispanic surrogates and field directors in different states, investing millions of dollars to ensure that the party is reaching Hispanic voters and communicating to Hispanic voters through Spanish language media.
The party is focused in winning back those Hispanic voters we lost in the last two presidential elections and courting independent Hispanic voters who share the same values as the Republican Party. We believe the Republican principles of individual empowerment, freedom and economic opportunities is the best choice for all Americans including Hispanics.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party suffered a setback this week. Most likely, Hispanics only heard about King's inflammatory statement, which has forced Republican leaders to spend their time denouncing his remarks and restating the party's commitment to Hispanics in the Spanish and English language media.
Additionally, Democrats continue to beat up Republicans by calling them anti-immigrants or xenophobes. Their comments are wrong. Republicans believe in the basic concept of legal immigration by encouraging individuals to follow the law. They do not want a reenactment of the 1986 amnesty where border enforcement was simply ignored and illegal immigration exploded in this country. However, our current immigration system makes it difficult for individuals to even obtain legal immigration status. The process is cumbersome and broken and needs to be modernized.
What we learn in this emotional debate on immigration is that words always matter, and hurtful words gets us nowhere in this discussion. For the sake of the party, King would be wise to apologize.