By Paul Ortiz
Every American should be appalled by Iowa Rep. Steve King’s recent remarks about Latino immigrants.
King stated that for every undocumented Latino who becomes 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.”
Hyping these stereotypes, King advocated the further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.
King is no debutante to the Racial Ball of Blame. He has a record of attacking minorities for things that he does not like. He ruefully cites President Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act for creating a Latino electorate that helped to bring President Obama to the White House. In doing so, however, King ignores the tens of millions of non-Latino citizens — including King’s own constituents — who also voted for Obama.
Playing the race card has been a constant game for King. Last year, he claimed the possible existence of a “telegram from Kenya” in an effort to validate birther conspiracy claims that Obama was born in Africa.
House Speaker John Boehner was correct to criticize King’s anti-Latino comments as “deeply offensive and wrong.” But Boehner should realize that the congressman draws his energy from a political culture that has demonized Latinos.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, for instance, politicians advocated militarizing the Mexico-U.S. border, even though neither Mexicans nor Mexican-Americans played any role in that attack — or in other terrorist acts in the United States.
Yet supporters of militarizing the border know that playing the Latino blame game will appeal to their right-wing base. It will also bring fat contracts to companies in the security industry and to private prison corporations that are incarcerating an increasing number of undocumented immigrants.
King bullies Latino immigrants because they do not have the power to fight back. They lack this power because of the unfairness of the American labor and immigration system.
Our economic structure depends on the labor of immigrant workers who have been shunted into low-wage jobs in the back of motels, restaurants, building construction sites and agricultural fields.
Lacking access to a meaningful pathway to citizenship perpetuates their isolation from the rest of the society. This allows stereotypes and misunderstandings between groups to fester.
The best way to reject King’s comment, and others like them, is to work towards a comprehensive immigration reform plan that places human rights and respect for the individual at the center, and de-emphasizes the rush to militarize our borders.
Paul Ortiz is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by MCT Information Services.