Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday denounced remarks from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who suggested that many of the nation’s young illegal immigrants are criminals involved in drug running.
"What he said is wrong," Boehner said. "There can be honest disagreements without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that."
“For everyone 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,” said King. “These people would be legalized with the same act."
Those remarks invited sharp criticism from House GOP leaders, who in recent days have said they are committed to working on immigration reform in the face of White House pressure to act on the issue after the Senate passed a bipartisan bill last month.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also condemned King's remarks.
"I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable," Cantor said in a statement.
King made his comments in an interview last week, but they flared into the public spotlight when the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Cantor are working on a Republican version of the Democratic DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to young illegal immigrants.
Democrats say the measure falls short and are calling for a pathway to citizenship for all of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, a central provision of the Senate bill.
King has been one of the most outspoken opponents of new proposals to overhaul the nation's immigration system, in particular efforts to change the status of those in the country illegally.
King told The Hill in a separate interview that opposition to “amnesty” was growing in the House.
"I just remind people that three months ago, there wasn't much optimism that anything except amnesty was going to come through the Senate, through the House and go to the president's desk. There wasn't organized opposition over here in the House,” he said.
"I went to [Rep.] Lou Barletta [R-Pa.] and said 'Lou, we've got to go to work.' A few days later, there were three of us. Now, there are dozens, scores of us and we're meeting on a weekly basis."