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Cantaloupe Calves, Steven King and a Self-Destructive GOP

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As of late, the only word to describe the immigrant rights news is "dramatic."

The DREAM 9, DREAMers who qualify for DACA but have not applied, have been arrested and detained in Arizona after crossing the border to visit family without immigration status. This has set off demonstrations across the country, from Arizona to New York. This is, of course, after a large battle involving liberal and conservative public and private forces that ultimately produced the Gang of 8 Senate bill. As of today, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) still refuses to take up the Senate bill as Congress winds down for recess. With House Republicans like Steven King (R-IA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) spewing vitriol and publicly arguing against immigration reform after a recent election cycle that saw abrasive rhetoric and policy toward Latinos and immigrants, it is hard to see how the GOP will escape their terrible Latino PR by 2014.

The DREAM 9 are a group of young undocumented immigrants who "self-deported" to Mexico to visit family, and then attempted to re-enter despite their immigration status. "Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, arriving individuals who are placed in expedited removal proceedings are subject to mandatory detention while their cases are reviewed," Immigration and Customs Enforcement said of them in a statement. The DREAM 9 represent the interests of DREAMers who have been separated from their families, sometimes for their entire lives: they occupy the most sympathetic space in the immigration debate, and they are currently wearing green jumpsuits behind bars at Eloy Detention Center for visiting mom at the same time the immigration debate hits a fevered pitch.

Further compounding this difficult situation are Republican Representatives like Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA). King and Gohmert have been as harsh as anyone in government during the immigration debate. While there are usually a few token Democrats who vote against immigration reform, the opposition to immigration reform is undeniably Republican in character, and the extreme is embodied by these two: Gohmert, famous for his "terror babies" theory and threatened to challenge Boehner in his Speaker role if he brought immigration to the floor of the House; King may have topped Rep. Young's (R-AK) "wetback" comment for insensitivity when he said of DREAMers "for every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

Remember, all of this was after the Mitt Romney election cycle. Romney promised a veto of the DREAM Act, pushed for SB 1070 (Arizona's "papers, please" law) when it was in the courts, had a "self-deportation" immigration policy, took Kris Kobach (author of SB 1070) to be his immigration adviser and did everything he could to try to run away from the immigration issue even as DREAMers confronted him almost every stop on the campaign trail: a narrative is cementing as Latinos have seen rhetorical abuse from the GOP, whether it is calling them "wetbacks" like Rep. Young of Alaska, or a bunch of drug mules with cantaloupe calves like King, they are all but outright bullying Latinos and immigrants and have been for years.

This is the sort of treatment that will push Latinos and Asians to vote for Democrats for a generation. Republicans with statewide or national interests who have learned that demographics are indeed destiny are searching for a muzzle to fit the Gohmerts and Kings of the Party who will never be threatened in their gerrymandered districts, and so never shut their mouths.

With 11 million undocumented immigrants trapped in an immigration system which takes decades to navigate and pushes far more people out than it accepts, the situation is absolutely critical: We have arrived here because nobody wanted to tackle the giant of immigration reform before, even when President Bush was pushing hard in a presidency where he had much more control over Congress than Obama.

As long as Speaker Boehner opposes immigration reform, the policies of his party will continue to be socially defined by those who manage to grab the most cameras to tell people why they oppose it. Right now, with quotes about cantaloupe calves, "wetbacks", terror babies, "self-deportation," SB 1070, etc., still very high on a Google search of "Republicans" and "Immigration," it is hard to see how the GOP will deflect blame for failing to reform an immigration system nobody refers to as anything other than broken anymore.

If Boehner weakly washes his hands of the issue to keep himself as Speaker of the House, he will be bowing to those who are painting immigrants like the DREAM 9 as a bunch of terror baby wetbacks with cantaloupe calves who are just trying to keep their jobs as drug mules. Even if this is only on the extreme, it is becoming the popular perception of Republicans as Univision begins to surpass Fox News; more Americans are watching Jorge Ramos roll up and beat Steve King with his own rhetoric like a naughty puppy than are tuning in for Sean Hannity giving easy questions to Carl Rove or Herman Cain, and this should frighten the GOP very much.