DES MOINES, IOWA — The day before Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) questioned whether humanity would exist if it weren’t for rape and incest while speaking to a conservative group in Des Moines, he held two town halls, one in Charles City and one in Boone. Both were dominated by King’s views on immigration, which, along with opposition to abortion, is the lawmaker’s main point of emphasis as he campaigns for reelection in Iowa’s culturally conservative 4th District.
King spent extended periods describing his grievances with the asylum system, including his claim that in some cases we’re paying for undocumented immigrants to get “plane ride[s] to Hawaii” (an audience member gasped), and told detailed stories about his recent travels along the border, including how a woman he says was from Cuba “came up out of the weeds” to turn herself in. The goal was clear: to instill as much fear as possible in his constituents that immigrants are changing “the face of America” as they know it.
To illustrate this point, King treated attendees of both events to a brief math lesson. Once he heard earlier this year that the Department of Homeland Security had interdicted 4,117 migrants in a single day, a record at the time, the congressman took out his calculator.
“If that number is 4,117 a day, they’ll all be counted in the Census, which is coming up very soon. How long does it take to supplant an entire congressional district? … I took out my calculator and went to Google to find the average size of a congressional district. The average one is 710,000. I divided 4,117 into 710,000 to find out how long it would take to supplant an entire congressional district. The number turns out to be 24 weeks. … Two congressional districts a year completely supplanted by non-citizen illegal aliens who have entered the United States illegally. And those are the ones we catch. There’s another one, two, or three more that we don’t catch. … That’s 20 congressional seats over the course of a Census. If there’s another one to match that that we miss, that’s 40 seats. If there are two that we miss, that’s 60 congressional seats.”
The logic of King’s formula doesn’t make a ton of sense. First, he’s assuming that 4,117 migrants are caught every day, which means over 1.5 million would be caught per year. According to the DHS, 396,579 were caught crossing the southern border in 2018. He’s then assuming that three times as many migrants cross the border undetected per day than are caught by DHS; or, that 4.5 million are entering the U.S. illegally per year. Finally, he assumes all of these migrants that he says have entered America illegally will participate in the Census, which determines how many congressional seats states get.
“That was mind-boggling,” Tom Emmerson, an 82-year-old from Ames, told Rolling Stone of the formula after the town hall in Boone. “It just didn’t make any sense.”
For all of his fear-mongering about changing demographics, King claims his fixation on the border comes out of nothing more than a simple desire to uphold the law. “It’s always been about restoring the respect for the rule of law,” he said. “That’s one of the necessary things if we’re going to remain a first-world country. It’s being eroded ever more dramatically day by day.”
Another issue with King’s fixation on the border is that undocumented immigrants play a large role in sustaining his district’s farming economy. When a constituent in Boone asked how he plans to deal with employers who, considering the low unemployment rate in the U.S., are having a hard time filling positions with non-immigrants, King once again turned to statistics. Citing an “in-house” study his office did a year ago, King said that only 152 million of 326 million Americas are “actually employed in the workforce,” and that included among those of working age who are not are early retirees, housewives, and others King said could be earning money through the “black market” or welfare.
The current unemployment rate in the U.S. is around 3.7 percent, but this doesn’t include all those goddamn homemakers King feels should be out baling hay in Iowa’s 4th District so farmers don’t have to hire undocumented immigrants. “Why are we talking about importing people from Guatemala City when we need to get a higher participation in the labor force from Americans?” he added.
One reason farmers may have some trouble hiring is that the population in the vast majority of the 4th District’s 39 counties has been dwindling, an increasingly common issue in rural America that has led many presidential candidates — as well as King’s prospective 2020 opponent, J.D. Scholten — to advocate for initiatives like funding rural broadband in order help retain the workforce in rural America.
When King was asked in Boone why the population is decreasing, he cited the farming crisis in the ’80s and, of course, abortion. “I don’t know what those numbers would be within these counties. But I just think that everybody is precious, born and unborn. When we talk about population loss, we know those numbers nationwide. It’s 60 million,” Kind said, referring to the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade.
Dilys Morris, an audience member from nearby Ames, had a solution to the problem. “Maybe we need more immigrants!” she called out after King finished making his point.
The congressman moved on.