Young immigrants deliver cantaloupes to Rep. King's office on Capitol Hill

A small group of young immigrants advocating for citizenship delivered a pair of cantaloupes to Rep. Steve King’s Capitol Hill office on Thursday, protesting his depiction of immigrant children as drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”

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“Today we wanted to talk to the congressman to tell him that the comments he is making are unacceptable, that our legs are not the size of cantaloupes, that even if they are, we are not drug runners, that we are here as students and he needs to stop making these comments,” said Maricela Aguilar, a 22-year-old who lives in Wisconsin without legal documents.

Aguilar, an advocate with United We Dream, arrived with a few other advocates to King’s office Thursday afternoon, hours after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) denounced the Iowa Republican’s remarks as “deeply offensive and wrong.” 

Members of King’s staff accepted the cantaloupes but said King was in a meeting and could not speak with the activists. He had returned to his office a few minutes earlier after making a lengthy speech on the House floor.

In an interview with Newsmax that sparked the uproar, King characterized as criminal drug runners the immigrant children that both Democrats and many Republicans want to legalize.

“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,” King said. “These people would be legalized with the same act.”

Aguilar said King should be removed from the House Judiciary Committee, although Boehner earlier gave no indication that would occur.

“He needs to be out of there,” she said. “Those comments are outrageous. They’re ridiculous and they’re unacceptable.”

King has repeatedly defended his comments in recent days, and he did so again on Thursday.

“Kids are being used to smuggle drugs across the border,” he said in a floor speech that began with a lengthy history of civilization ranging from Biblical and Roman times to the present day. “We need a secure border.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, King said his critics were speaking out of emotion and not facts.

“What I spoke was objective truth, informed objective truth,” he said. “And if that offends people, then we cannot arrive at rational conclusions for public policy.”

He asked to enter into the Congressional Record an Associated Press article reporting on kids being used as “drug mules.” He told reporters that people who agreed with him on immigration policy had not protested his comments, unlike those who are advocating the kind of reform he has long opposed.

“These are people who are trying to advance their agenda, and they’re trying to marginalize me in the process,” King said.

He rejected the suggestion that his use of cantaloupes as a comparison was racist.

“To me that’s flabbergasting that that can be construed as a racist remark. It’s flabbergastering,” King told reporters. “I gave a number, and I described a fruit, which comes in multiple sizes by the way, so it’s up to your imagination on that.”

“I can’t imagine why that’s racist,” he continued, “and if offended anybody, that’s drug smugglers, and it doesn’t trouble me to offend drug smugglers.”

King said his broad point was to rebut the suggestion by advocates of granting citizenship to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally that the children all grew up to be valedictorians in their high school class.

“I like those people. They pull at my heartstrings, too,” he said in reference to immigrants who succeeded in school. “But they are not typical. They are atypical, as valuable as they are.”

King said his office has been flooded with constituent calls in recent days and that as of Wednesday afternoon, about 55 percent were negative and 45 percent were positive toward him.