Congressman’s comments anger South Florida colleagues

Miami’s three Cuban-American members of Congress have a message for fellow U.S. Rep. Steve King, who said more DREAMer immigrants are drug mules than valedictorians: Be quiet.

King’s statements, which drew swift rebukes from Republican congressional leaders earlier in the week, have become the latest flash-point in the immigration debate in the conservative House, which is divided over whether and how to reform the system.

“These comments are outrageous and reflect only this particular member’s views,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican House member like King, said in a statement. “Such statements are factually untrue, hurtful and seem designed to divide rather than to bring our nation together.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s fellow Miami Republican, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, has spent more than a year with a bipartisan House group that now plans to release a comprehensive immigration-reform package after the August recess — a strategic move partly designed to shield the bill from criticism when Congress isn’t in session.

Diaz-Balart called King’s comments “unacceptable… unacceptable. Unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat, said at a House Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday that King’s sentiments were “beneath the dignity of this body.”

But King isn’t backing down, and the conservative news media is celebrating his comments about the so-called DREAM Act, which would give a pathway to citizenship for students who were illegally brought to this country by their parents.

While DREAM Act supporters say eligible kids are current and future valedictorians, King told the conservative media outlet NewsMax last week that some are used as drug mules.

King took to the House floor late Wednesday night and defended himself by reading comments into the congressional record that included information from a 2012 Associated Press article that bore the headline: “Mexico Children Used as ‘Mules’ by Drug Gangs.”

According to The Hill, King also reiterated a version of his NewsMax comments that caused a stir: “For everyone 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. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

Most polling indicates that most voters, including a plurality of Republicans, favor the DREAM Act and a broader pathway to citizenship.

But the polls don’t account for the gerrymandered-nature of U.S. House districts, where a large majority of Republicans represent districts with small Hispanic populations.

Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart’s districts are among the few exceptions.

The more-moderate Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform plan in June that provides a pathway to citizenship, beefs up border security and offers incentives to attract more high-skilled immigrants.

But many House Republicans say it’s not enough. They want more border security faster before an “amnesty” of any sort is given to current illegal immigrants.

Meantime, many conservatives have turned on a key sponsor of the bill, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential contender who would have to campaign in King’s home state of Iowa should he run for the White House in 2016.

With such vocal Republican opposition, polling indicates that voters generally and Hispanics in particular would be more likely to fault the GOP if an immigration-reform bill doesn’t pass the House.

Voters are also not sure about the sincerity of Republicans when it comes to immigration reform, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. It found that 59 percent of voters think Republican calls for more border security are an “excuse to block reform.” Only 36 percent said it was a “legitimate concern.”

Democrats are again starting to campaign on the issue, and on King’s comments in particular.

Garcia issued a campaign statement Wednesday highlighting his comments in committee where he took King to task.

“When members of this committee — when members of this House — use inflammatory language, use offensive language, it does not help the process,” Garcia said.

“It is offensive. And it is beneath the dignity of this body and this country,” Garcia said. “This is an American problem. And we need to work together.”