During an awkward confrontation Monday, two undocumented activists approached Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in a restaurant in Okoboji, Iowa, to tell them that they are undocumented. After shaking hands, undocumented activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas told King that they did not want him to kill an executive action that grants temporary legal presence to DREAMers, a colloquial term used to describe some undocumented immigrants illegally brought to the country as children, like themselves.
Andiola asked King to rip up her employment authorization card, a work authorization document issued after she had been approved for a presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But King refused and instead said that their families were not abiding by the laws of the country. When she charged that he had said that undocumented immigrants like her have “cantaloupe calves,” alluding to a characterization he had made on the House floor last year, he said, “You can understand the English language.”
ANDIOLA: I’m actually a DREAMer. I’m originally from Mexico, but I was raised here. I graduated from Arizona State University. I know you want to get rid of DACA. And I wanted to give you the opportunity, if you really want to get rid of DACA, just rip mine. You can go ahead and do that. You take my DACA, you will literally take away everything.
KING: This is not what I do. […] I don’t call you names–
ANDIOLA: I mean, cantaloupe calves?
KING: That’s drug smugglers. You’re very good at English. [Grabs Andiola’s arm] You know what I’m saying. So you can understand the English language. You’re saying something that’s not true. I spoke of drug smugglers… Your ears work too, I was speaking of drug smugglers only.
ANDIOLA: You’re the one who’s trying to get rid of DACA.
KING: And you heard why. I told you why. The president has no constitutional authority to do what he has done.
ANDIOLA: Yes he does. [She turns to Vargas] He’s actually an attorney, he’s a DREAMer. He graduated from law school.
KING: Oh and that makes you an authority. […] You keep your card. I don’t do individual policy. I do national policy for everyone. It troubles me a great deal that you have such disrespect for the laws of the United States of America. You’re telling me that you don’t have to abide by the laws.”
For his part, Paul — still masticating on a hamburger — assessed the situation early on and left the table with his aide Sergio Gor. Gor later told the National Journal, “Senator Paul had a media avail after the event and that’s where we had to be. CNN, Buzzfeed, Wall Street Journal and several local outlets attended the media avail.”
In the nearly eight minute clip provided by the advocacy group DRM Action Coalition, King went on to accuse Andiola and Vargas for “not abiding by our laws.” Even after Vargas explained that he wanted to serve in the military and that there wasn’t a system for him to be able to become legal, King kept pushing the claim that President Obama had violated constitutional law and eroded the rule of law. King said, “I don’t want to build a country with people who disrespect the law.” When Andiola explained that her mother had escaped domestic violence, King egged her on saying, “she’s illegally in the United States.” Deep in their uncomfortable argument, a man shouted “Go home! Take care of your own.”
Andiola’s confrontation is not the first, and it is not likely to be the last. Late last year, two teenagers approached House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in a Washington, D.C.-area diner to ask him to stop deportations. Another time, former- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) brushed off a young girl who asked him to help her undocumented father. Activists have also held candlelight vigils at Boehner’s home and have been arrested for holding civil disobedience sit-ins in House Republican offices.
Before they left for August recess, House Republicans voted through two measures that would gut legal protections for DREAMers and unaccompanied Latin American children who are coming across the southern border. They have approved measures in the past that would make it easier to bring civil lawsuits against the executive branch for failing to execute federal law and requiring the attorney general to explain the constitutionality of all enforcement decisions made by federal agencies. The Senate will likely not take up any of these bills and the President has already promised to veto the measures.