By CESAR VARGAS and ERIKA ANDIOLA, POLITICO
Last Sunday in Iowa, the two of us had the opportunity to meet Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. After we identified ourselves as “DREAMers”— undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — what we intended to be a civil, serious discussion turned into a tense confrontation with King.
That tense confrontation became a viral Internet sensation when Paul fled the scene in the middle of eating a hamburger. Here’s the whole story.
Originally, we had travelled to Iowa to meet other DREAMers and Iowans from King’s district. King is one of the House of Representatives’ most vocal opponents of comprehensive immigration reform, and he is known for his wild statements equating Hispanic immigrants to “drug mules.” Despite his cold reception, Iowans were very welcoming: We met a gentle-spoken Christian Republican who told us that King did not represent his views, or his neighbors’, when it comes to immigration, explaining why the issue drove down King’s winning margin from 30 percentage points in 2010 to just 8 points in 2012.
After speaking with undocumented young people like us, we were invited by King’s constituents to attend his fundraiser. It was telling that his constituents lamented how King rarely speaks directly to the people he represents.
At the event, we listened to King’s speech. He wasted no time bragging about his recent legislative success to kill DACA – the federal program to halt the deportation of young immigrants raised in the United States The speech made us angry; it was then that one of us decided to hand him our DACA card, challenging him to rip it up if he truly opposes the program.
Contrary to what King said later, we did not create an elaborate, 007-like plan to catch him on camera saying something outrageous. Nor had we planned to ask King to rip up our DACA cards, the tangible identification that protects us from deportation. Most importantly, we don’t have a “left wing” partisan agenda; this is personal for us because this is about our families, not politics.
King was condescending and insulting: Though we were raised in the United States, he asked if we understood the English language, interrogated us about whether we were drug smugglers and dismissed the sacrifice of an undocumented soldier killed in action by repeatedly calling him a liar. Needless to say, King’s rough manners—he even grabbed Erika’s hand—crossed the line.
Paul, who was there to raise money for King, avoided the topic of immigration in front of the elderly, predominantly white crowd, but he did urge Republicans to be more inclusive by giving those caught up in the prison system for drug offenses a “second chance” because “we all deserve one.”
Paul’s rhetoric made sense to us, which is why it was surprising to see him avoid not only a question on immigration policy, but also the people asking it. No reporters were hovering over Paul after his speech, which we thought might make him more willing to engage as he sat eating lunch alongside King. Instead, his aide kept a wary eye on us as we approached the table.