A leading Republican voice on immigration reform says that comments made by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) about illegal immigrants do not reflect the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of House Republican lawmakers and are being given outsized attention by the national media.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who until recently was a member of a bipartisan working group on immigration and is a native of Puerto Rico, said Wednesday that King's comments "were irresponsible and reprehensible. I think what he said was out of touch with the conference. There’s nobody in the conference who would say such a thing and I hope that he, if he thought about it, he wouldn’t say such a thing again."
King said in a recent interview with the conservative Web site Newsmax that legalizing undocumented immigrants will not occur because of the high number of undocumented immigrants who carry drugs across the border.
Labrador responded to the comments Wednesday at the monthly "Conversations with Conservatives," an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation that amounts to a press conference with some of the most outspoken, conservative House Republicans.
While he disagreed with King's comments, Labrador also admonished reporters for focusing so intently on them, saying that to do so does not accurately reflect Republican thinking about immigration reform. He noted that three Republicans -- Mike Coffman (Colo.), Jeff Denham (Calif.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) -- testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday about how Congress might address the legal status of the children of illegal immigrants -- and that their comments received scant news coverage.
"You had an entire committee, except for Steve King, that were very positive in their comments, and all you guys can do is fan the flames of one person making a reprehensible and irresponsible comment. So shame on you, shame on the media for only concentrating on that aspect of it," Labrador said.
"If you were saying that as part of a story, and you actually were highlighting the comments of every other Republican who was testifying, of every Republican who was actually on the committee, then you would actually showing the truth of what’s happening here in Congress, which is that he is the small, small minority, almost singular minority of making comments on that."
King is a member of the Judiciary Committee and attended Tuesday's hearing, but made his comments about illegal immigration in a separate interview last week and said nothing about his comments during the hearing.
Also during Wednesday's event, Labrador and his colleagues continued to insist that the House must first address concerns with security along the U.S.-Mexico border before it considers granting permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship to any of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
Labrador said that one of the most frequent comments he hears from constituents is, "Congressman, if you're going to do something about immigration, make sure that we don't have this debate 10 years from now again. ... Make sure that you fix it."