WASHINGTON -- Latino and immigrant advocacy groups delivered more than 54,000 signatures to the Kansas capitol on Friday calling for state Rep. Virgil Peck (R) to resign after he said unauthorized immigrants should be shot from helicopters.
Peck made the controversial comment last week during a hearing on how to deal with the state's feral hog problem. After someone suggested shooting the hogs from helicopters, Peck quipped, "If shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a [solution] to our illegal immigration problem."
He later said the statement was a joke, and has since apologized. But the advocacy groups argue that Peck should resign over the comments. Their petition, which is hosted at Presente.org, asks Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and House Speaker Mike O'Neal (R) to "call for his resignation now and hold him accountable for his hateful rhetoric."
Brownback has called Peck's statement "completely inappropriate," but so far has stopped short of asking him to step down. Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Brownback's communications director, told HuffPost the governor would review the petitions, but declined to comment on whether he would ask Peck to resign.
The offices of Peck and O'Neal did not respond to requests for comment.
Joaquin Guerra, one of the organizers of the petition with Presente.org, said he hoped politicians would use Peck's statements as a "teaching moment" to show they condemn heated rhetoric on immigration.
"If you listened to the remarks, he was emphatic about it, there was no sign that he was joking," Guerra said. "It just goes to show how far extreme politicians have gone to speak about immigration, that they're just cavalier about saying someone should be shot."
Peck's statements come on the heels of a campaign season characterized by promises to drive out undocumented immigrants and during a push for legislation that would mimic SB 1070, Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration. Peck has been a vocal proponent of anti-illegal immigration bills, and sponsored a repeal of a bill that provides in-state tuition for undocumented students who grew up in Kansas.
Nearly 11 percent of the population in Kansas identifies as Latino, according to the 2010 Census.
Emira Palacios, a Kansas resident who immigrated to the United States without authorization 25 years ago and is now a citizen, said Peck's "joke" about undocumented immigrants was offensive to all Latinos. Palacios, an advocate for immigrant rights with Sunflower Community Action, was part of the coalition that delivered petitions to the capitol.
"I really feel that they're not taking it seriously enough. This type of comment divides our community and stigmatizes immigrants," she said. "If they're not coming and condemning his comments, does that mean they agree with them?"
Palacios said she would continue pushing for Peck to resign.
"Calling people pigs and saying we should be shooting them down is dehumanizing elements of society and it's wrong," she said. "He targeted a segment of our society in the lowest possible way, and he needs to get out of position, period."
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