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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Durbin, Harkin Take On Immigration Critic In His Own District

Aug 3, 2013
Originally published on August 3, 2013 1:46 pm

Two top Senate Democrats took the fight for an immigration bill to the home district of one of the issue's toughest critics, Republican Rep. Steve King, on Friday.

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went to Ames, Iowa, to make hay out of King's remarks about the "Dreamers," those young people brought here as children by their undocumented parents.

"There have been some characterizations of these young students that aren't fair at all," Durbin said at a rally on Friday.

King often makes headlines for his extra-strong statements, but he struck a bigger nerve recently when he said there are 100 drug smugglers for every valedictorian among the Dreamers. Even some top Republicans called the statement hateful and ignorant.

Immigration bill supporters are using the incident to rally for their cause. Durbin is a kind of hero to immigration activists; he's the author of the Dream Act, which creates a path to legal residency for Dreamers. He's also one of the "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan group that shepherded a comprehensive immigration overhaul through the Senate.

"We came together on a bipartisan basis," he told the crowd, "and at the end of the day we passed a bill."

The rally was in King's district, but most who showed up were not on King's side. "I'm very much opposed to his position," said retired county attorney and now immigration activist Mary Richards. She would like to see the Republican-controlled House take up the Senate bill.

King turned down requests for interviews, but on a conservative talk show on Omaha's KFAB Radio he said he didn't care if even Republican House Speaker John Boehner criticizes him.

"There's no denying the fact of what I said," he said. "So they attack the messenger because the facts undermine their Dreamer amnesty agenda."

A small group of King supporters did protest outside the rally. Retired journalist Larry Clayton held a banner saying, "Secure the Borders First."

"I believe that the amnesty bill, which is what I call it, or the Dream Act or whatever, makes a mockery out of our current immigration system," Clayton said.

It's unclear what part of the Senate package could come up for a vote in the House. King's Republican leaders say they plan to look at immigration bills on a piecemeal basis starting this autumn.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Some lawmakers will use their recess to rally support for an immigration bill. In Iowa yesterday, two Senate Democrats took the fight to the home district of one of the issue's toughest critics. Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell reports.

JOYCE RUSSELL, BYLINE: It was no accident that Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin came to Ames, Iowa, to make their case. Ames is part of Republican Congressman Steve King's district. Durbin doesn't like what King has been saying about so-called Dreamers. Those are young people brought here as children by their undocumented parents.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: There have been things said about these young students and young people that just aren't fair at all.

RUSSELL: Congressman King often makes headlines for extra-strong statements, but he's struck even more of a nerve recently with what he said about the so-called Dreamers - that there are 100 drug smugglers for every valedictorian among them. Even some top Republicans called that hateful and ignorant. Now, immigration supporters are using the incident to rally for their cause. That includes 24-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez.

EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ: My story is, I was born in Varadero(ph), Mexico; and my parents brought me over to the States when I was a year old.

RUSSELL: For Rodriquez and other immigration activists, Sen. Durbin is a kind of hero. He's the author of the so-called Dream Act, creating a path to legal residency for Dreamers. He's also one of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group that shepherded a comprehensive immigration overhaul through the senate.

DURBIN: We came together on a bipartisan basis and at the end of the day, we passed the bill.

RUSSELL: The rally was in Steve King's district, but most who showed up were not on his side.

MARY RICHARDS: That's true - I am very much opposed to his position.

RUSSELL: That's retired county attorney, and now immigration activist, Mary Richards, who would like to see the House pick up the Senate bill. Congressman King turned down request for interviews. But on a conservative talk show on Omaha's KFAB Radio, he says so what if even Republican House Speaker John Boehner criticizes him.

REP. STEVE KING: There's no denying the fact of what I said, and so they attack the messenger because the facts undermine their Dreamer amnesty agenda.

RUSSELL: The small group of protesters outdoors were on the congressman's side. Retired journalist Larry Clayton held a banner saying, "Secure The Borders First."

LARRY CLAYTON: I believe the amnesty bill, which is what I call it - or the Dream Act bill, or whatever - makes a mockery out of our current immigration system.

RUSSELL: It's unclear what part of that senate package could pass the House. King's Republican leaders say they plan to look at immigration bills on a piecemeal basis starting this autumn.

For NPR News, I'm Joyce Russell in Ames, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.