Young undocumented immigrants hand delivered cantaloupes to 224 members of Congress on Thursday, part of a broader campaign to highlight Iowa Republican Steve King’s influence on the House GOP’s immigration policy. King became the face of opposition to reform last month when he complained that undocumented youth, popularly known as DREAMers, were more likely to be drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling marijuana bales than to be high achieving students.
The targeted members, 221 Republicans and 3 Democrats, voted in June for an amendment by King that would defund the DACA program initiated by President Obama to halt deportations for many undocumented youth. In recent weeks, House Republican leaders have expressed interest in passing legislation to grant such immigrants legal status, but the King vote has complicated their efforts to distance themselves from the Iowa Congressman.
“They always think of us as drug dealers, but they never think of us as Americans,” Jose Diaz, 20, an activist with United We Dream, told reporters gathered in a House office building on Thursday. Diaz is undocumented himself and received relief through DACA—relief that King’s amendment would jeopardize if passed.
King’s outrageous (and false) statement prompted Republican leaders to denounce the Congressman’s rhetoric, but activists are trying to keep up pressure on Republicans to disown King’s hardline policies as well. Diaz’s family still faces the threat of deportation and young activists are demanding that any new immigration law grant them legal status as well, a policy central to the Senate’s recently passed bill. House Republican leaders have been reluctant to embrace a broader legalization or citizenship policy, although they haven’t ruled it out.
“The racism of his words aren’t just words,” Giev Kashkooli, vice president of United Farm Workers, told reporters. “They animate policies that affect all Americans. Boehner chose to give that policy a vote just a month ago.”
Kashkooli personally delivered a cantaloupe to King’s office. A message attached to each piece of fruit read: “This cantaloupe was picked by immigrants in California. You gave Steve King a vote. Give us a vote for citizenship.”
“It’s extremely difficult work [picking cantaloupes]” Kashkooli said to an aide for King, who politely accepted it in the Congressman’s absence. “It’s not a workout. It’s endured so the rest of the country can enjoy these things.”
If nothing else, King’s comments have given immigration activists plenty of ideas for political theater. Previously, DREAMers tweeted photos of their calves to mock his remarks.