The video — showing young immigrants confronting Republican Rep. Steve King while GOP Sen. Rand Paul slips away — offers a rare glimpse into the deep personal divisions and political sensitivities that have paralyzed the nation’s immigration debate.
The so-called Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — have become masters of the art of peaceful confrontation, staking out Republican leaders on their home turfs to push for immigration reform. They once surprised House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) at his favorite breakfast spot on Capitol Hill, suggesting that as a dad of two he might understand them.
But this week’s stop at an Iowa fundraiser where King, the hard-line conservative, was joined by Paul, the potential presidential contender from Kentucky, showed just how far apart the sides remain in the immigration debate.
Erika Andiola, a college graduate from Arizona State University who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, extends an outstretched hand to greet King and Paul as they dig into paper plates of food at the $10-a-person fundraiser in the congressman’s home district.
“I’m actually a Dreamer myself,” Andiola says by way of introduction, before presenting an identification card that gives her temporary legal status under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I know you want to get rid of DACA, so I wanted to give you the opportunity,” she says, as King is reviewing the card. “If you really want to get rid of it, just rip mine.”
Just days earlier, the Republican-led House voted to end the program, rolling it back for some 500,000 young people who have gained legal status for two years, allowing them to apply for work, driver’s licenses and come out from the shadows.
King stands up from the table to talk with the young immigrant. Paul takes a bite of his food while an aide gestures that it’s time to leave — and they quietly extricate themselves from the video frame.
A representative for Paul said the senator had to leave for a media availability after the event.
“You take my DACA, you’re going to take, really, everything that right now I have accomplished,” Andiola says, listing the unflattering names King has called immigrants. King once suggested Dreamers have calves the size of cantaloupes from hauling drugs across the Southwestern border.
“I don’t call you names,” King interjects, explaining he was only referring to drug mules. “You’re very good at English. You know what I’m saying.”
“I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from,” Andiola says.
The exchange continues. King asks, rhetorically, if she’s a drug smuggler. Andiola, shocked, responds: “Do I look like a drug smuggler to you?”
A fellow Dreamer explains his desire to gain legalization so he can join the military.
“The president has no constitutional authority to do what he has done,” King says. “Why don’t you want to abide by our laws?”
“There are many laws that have to be changed,” Andiola counters.
“Many years from now, maybe the laws will be changed,” King offers. But he adds: “I don’t want to build a country with people who have disrespect for the law.”
“We don’t have disrespect for the law. We were brought here as children,” Andiola says.
Then the conversation, like so many about immigration both on and off Capitol Hill, sputtered into the tired talking points that have left Washington stalemated on a solution.
Andiola, appearing to sense the outcome, gives the congressman a friendly pat on the shoulder, and says goodbye.
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