Documents Show Steve King, Other Republicans Consulting With the Department of Homeland Security About Immigration
Congressman Steve King (R-IA) has been working closely with the Department of Homeland Security on immigration policy, documents show. In emails, King staffers queried DHS officials frequently about undocumented individuals, sought feedback on legislation, and asked for assistance setting up a trip to the border for pro-Trump Fox News personalities Diamond and Silk.
King, a white supremacist, has publicly shown his bigoted hatred and pushed for a border wall long before Trump became president. In 2018, he was recorded on audio referring to immigrants as “dirt.” In January 2019, he was removed from his committee assignments after he made racist comments published by The New York Times.
Emails released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ethics watchdog nonprofit American Oversight show how King and other members of Congress have worked alongside the administration to encourage and enable their cruel treatment of migrants, including deportation and detention.
In January 2018, a legislative assistant for King asked DHS for a variety of data about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants. His office sent a list of 13 detailed questions, including how many required an interpreter to complete their applications, how many said that they had a criminal history in the U.S., and how many underwent a criminal background check in their birth country.
Uyen Dinh, deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs at DHS, replied: “[U]sually if you have one or two questions, we can try to knock them out. But in this case, your questions are much more detailed and substantial.”
King’s chief of staff asked for a phone call. Afterward, a legislative assistant for King sent a shortened request: “We talked this over and really tried to boil these down. Here are the three questions we’d like answered as soon as you can.”
The final questions included the average age and gender breakdown of people accepted for DACA, as well as the number of those accepted who had a criminal background check.
Dinh told them that all DACA recipients are put through the DHS-TECS platform, an automated system that searches through multiple databases.
While members of Congress routinely work with cabinet agencies, the variety and persistence of King’s requests was notable.
J.D. Scholten, a Democrat running against King in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District, told the Prospect: “King continues to use taxpayer resources to push forward his own selfish agenda that doesn’t match the values and needs of Iowa’s Fourth District. The reality is that we need an immigrant workforce to make our rural economy work.”
Emails from July 2018 show King’s legislative director asking DHS for help arranging a border trip for Fox personalities Diamond and Silk, the on-air names of Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, to “assess the situation.” Diamond and Silk are pro-Trump video bloggers who recently said on Fox News that salt and sugar are “the same.”
Dinh put the staffers in touch with an official at the DHS Private Sector Office. A year later, the sisters appeared on Fox News to report on a visit they made to the Texas border, emphasizing multiple times that detained migrants are, in fact, given food.
This year, King invited Diamond and Silk to be his guests at the State of the Union, although he only had one ticket, so Diamond attended. In 2018, he invited them to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about social media censorship. King even introduced legislation called the “Diamond and Silk Act” seeking to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. His role in helping Diamond and Silk visit the border, however, has not previously been reported.
In an email from March 2018, a legislative assistant for King sent DHS staffers language for a proposed bill on “immigration bonding,” asking for feedback from L. Francis Cissna, then-director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Our bosses have previously discussed this but we now have bill language,” King’s staffer wrote.
The legislation sought to require temporary visa seekers to pay a bond of up to $10,000 that would then be forfeited if that person overstayed their visa. The money would then be used to build a border wall and pay more Border Patrol agents.
King has long focused his career in politics on immigration. In 2013, King made racist comments about underage undocumented migrants: “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.”
Scholten, who nearly defeated King in 2018, added: “Instead of his hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric and cherry-picking statistics to fit his false narrative, King should listen to this district’s needs and support a pathway to residency and citizenship for immigrants as well as a year-round visa program that would benefit our agriculture industry.”
Other members of Congress besides King made requests of DHS as well, some of them striking. In April 2018, counsel for the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration emailed an official at Customs and Border Protection about a request from Texas Senator John Cornyn for briefing about proposed wall construction in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The approximately 700-acre refuge is home to threatened species, causing major concern over the effect of a wall on the habitat for wildlife. According to the emails, Cornyn wanted to use technology there rather than a physical wall. Congress passed a provision this year banning border wall construction at the park.
Then, the counsel asked someone at the CBP Office of Congressional Affairs for help on something else: “On a completely separate front … Who would be a good [point of contact] at CBP who I could talk to about CBP needs in terms of dealing with human migrant remains?” CBP replied: “Could you check with [redacted].”