Fact Check: Steve King Says Valedictorians and Drug Smugglers Could Be Legalized

GOP congressman comments were offensive, but also false

July 25, 2013— -- Rep. Steve King isn't backing away from his inflammatory comments about young undocumented immigrants, asserting that for every valedictorian there are 100 drug smugglers.

The Iowa Republican went on CNN Wednesday night and claimed everything he said is "factually correct," based on information he received on trips to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Every night there are dozens and scores of people that are smuggling drugs across our border," he said. "I've been down there multiple times. I've sat along the border at night. I've traveled with the Border Patrol for days on end … This isn't something that just was made up out of thin air. This is something I get from the people enforcing the law down on the border."

But King isn't just claiming that drug mules outnumber valedictorians 100:1, he's saying that both classes of undocumented immigrants would earn legal status under the DREAM Act.

"These people would be legalized with these valedictorians as well," he said.

Let's break down those claims.

What's the ratio of valedictorians versus drug smugglers?

King's calculation of the ratio of valedictorians to drug smugglers is virtually an impossible metric to calculate.

In fact, King appeared to admit that much himself during his CNN interview.

"I wasn't talking about the ratio. Border Patrol agents don't know how many valedictorians we have that are also DREAMers. In fact, I don't know that the public knows either," he said. "But I can tell you it's not nearly as many as the advocates for the DREAM Act would like to have you believe."

Beyond King's anecdotes, there's very little data for crime rates among undocumented youth specifically. And the information that does exist shows no link between increased immigration -- legal and illegal -- and crime.

FBI data compiled from the by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), a pro-immigration group, shows that crime in the U.S. decreased as immigration increased between 1990 and 2010.

And incarceration rates among young men (ages 18-39) are five times lower for immigrants compared to native-born men, according to a 2007 University of California-Irvine study cited by the IPC.

Can drug smugglers become citizens under the DREAM Act?

No. Simply put, drug smugglers aren't eligible for legalization under the latest immigration proposals.

The Senate's immigration bill contains a DREAM Act provision that would allow certain young undocumented immigrants who have attended college or served in the military to earn permanent legal status in just five years, compared to 10 years for others.

But all undocumented immigrants, young and old, must pass a background check in order to gain temporary legal status, which puts them on the track to citizenship. Immigrants are rendered ineligible if they have committed a felony or three misdemeanors.

Crossing the border illegally with the amount of drugs that King described -- 75 pounds of marijuana -- would count as a felony and bar an immigrant from obtaining legal status, according to David Leopold, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

But it wouldn't even take that much to keep an undocumented immigrant from becoming legalized. The bill would maintain current law and prohibit even lesser "drug offenders from qualifying [f]or benefits under the immigration reform package," Leopold said in an email.

And to obtain permanent legal status, young undocumented immigrants eligible under the DREAM Act must complete another background check "to determine whether there was any criminal, national security, or other factor that would render the alien ineligible for such status," the Senate bill says.

If an immigration bill does manage to pass this year, it might look different than the Senate's legislation. For example, House Republicans are crafting their own bill to address undocumented youth. But it's safe to say that drug smugglers wouldn't qualify for legalization under any immigration reform plan.