BOONE — The chairman of the U.S. House Select Intelligence Committee, a leading Hispanic political figure, says “as an American,” he’s offended by some of Iowa Congressman Steve King’s comments on immigration.
What’s more, U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, sees King’s strong rhetoric on immigration as contributing to a long-term national Democratic Party majority, something he believes will be buoyed by an Hispanic community outraged at King-like posturing.
“I think that some of the statements that are made by my colleagues (U.S. Rep. Tom) Tancredo and King are not only unrealistic but are certainly long-term very consequential to their party,” Reyes said.
King’s rhetoric about a fence on the southern border of the United States is particularly troubling for Reyes.
“I’m offended by the fact that they think that in the age of globalization they can build a 2,000-mile long wall or walls and isolate Latin America from the United States,” Reyes said. “It’s not good public policy. It betrays the legacy of immigration that we celebrate as a nation. And third, I don’t think it’s good politics.”
In an infamous PR stunt, King went to the House floor last year to display the model of a wall the Kiron Republican said he personally designed for the U.S. border with Mexico.
King said the same tactic employed to manage livestock could be used with his border plan — and he made two livestock references in talking about the wall.
“We need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there.” King said in displaying his design. “We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.”
For his part, Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, has run a presidential campaign focusing almost exclusively on immigration issues.
In a recent interview with Iowa Independent in Boone following a presidential campaign event for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Reyes stopped short of referring to King and Tancredo as racist.
“I don’t know if in fact they’re racists so I’m not prepared to call them that,” Reyes said. “But I do think they’re pandering to that 20 percent or so of our population that would like to see our country have an isolationist policy.”
In recently discussing the worker shortage in Iowa, King told the Greater Des Moines Partnership that the birth of more Iowa babies, not immigration, is the solution, according to a story by longtime Des Moines Register D.C. reporter Jane Norman.
“What about the ‘grow your own’ plan,’” King said.
In the event with the Iowa group, the Kiron Republican added that the birthrate is so low in Europe that “western Europeans themselves are not having babies fast enough to keep their population up, and because they created ethnic enclaves, as opposed to assimilation, Europe isn’t going to be the same Europe we knew,” reports the Register.
While such rhetoric may play to the conservative base in safe congressional districts, Reyes, who rolled his eyes when a reporter first raised King’s name, said the western Iowa Republican’s high profile on this issue is severely damaging the national GOP, perhaps irreparably as the nation’s Hispanic population soars.
According to the U.S. Census, the projected Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2050, is more than 102 million. According to this projection, Hispanics will constitute 24 percent of the nation’s total population by that date.
“In the long term the Latino or Hispanic community, generally speaking, is very loyal,” Reyes said. “We as Democrats look at this community as an emerging political power base and those that would make the kinds of statements that are made by Representatives King and Tancredo are risking the alienation of the whole community politically.”
Reyes said the Republican Party would be wise to go with the instincts of the president, not the King crowd, on immigration. President Bush this year sought to shepherd through a controversial compromise immigration plan that included enforcement and path-to-citizenship measures.
“If there was one thing that President George W. Bush did that worked for the Republican Party, it was that in the last election he made the Republican Party more attractive in terms of the Latino community,” Reyes said. “Whatever gains he made in 2004 have not only been erased, but I think it also has seriously jeopardized any hope that any Republican would have to be attractive to the Hispanic or Latino community.”
He said there is great speculation about the influence Latinos will have in 2008.
“I think certainly the Southwest is an emerging power base when you talk about Texas, New Mexico, California, Colorado and Nevada, all heavily Latino-populated states,” Reyes said. “I think that’s going to be a very active battleground.”
Campaigning for Bill Richardson in the Southwest, Reyes senses a “groundswell” for Democrats there.
“We still have to wait and see how that influence plays out in 2008,” Reyes said. “What we don’t know is how motivated they are going to be and how many will actually register and vote. That’s the message we’re getting out there, that it’s not just enough to be angry at the Tancredos or the Kings or the Romneys or the Thompsons, all those that are making immigration a wedge issue.”
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Fred Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, are Republican candidates for president.