July 17, 2015; The Hill

Julian Castro is the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Steve King is Republican Congressman representing the 4th Congressional District in Iowa. No one to our knowledge has ever challenged the Latino heritage of Julian Castro, a three-time former mayor of San Antonio and the son of a Chicana activist who helped establish La Raza Unida. Representative King’s Latino credentials are a bit more questionable. King’s claim to fame is his strident stance against immigration reform, probably as extreme as anyone in Congress and competing with Donald Trump for boorishness. It’s not quite the typical profile of someone of Hispanic heritage living in the U.S.

Explain, then, this weekend tweet from King about Castro:

The prompts for King’s tweet seem to have been two from @ImmigrantNacion, one that cited Castro as having said that the Republican Party “can kiss the Latino vote goodbye,” the other specifically directed at King calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

While King has left it to Trump to declare Mexican immigrants a horde of rapists and murderers, his own sweeping statements about immigrants aren’t much less disgusting, notably his oft-quoted contention uttered as commentary on the DREAM Act about the character of young Mexican immigrants:

“Some of them are valedictorians—and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Perhaps King decided to take aim at Secretary Castro because Castro has been mentioned in various places as a potential vice presidential running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. For nonprofits, however, the significance of King’s questioning of Castro’s ethnic heritage may also be a not-so-subtle attack on Castro’s track record at HUD.

Having been starved of discretionary budget resources, Castro’s HUD has notably taken advantage of its regulatory powers to stand up against housing discrimination, issuing new clarifications on housing discrimination that garnered positive statements from leaders of national Latino organizations, such as Janet Murguía, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, who said:

“For Latino families, who are among the most vulnerable to fair housing violations, strong regulations that combat systemic discrimination are essential to expanding opportunities and promoting healthier, safer and more diverse communities…This [new] strong rule from HUD will help address the growing racial and ethnic inequalities in this country by ensuring that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, family status or disability, may choose where they want to live.”

Maybe King implicitly fears that HUD’s new attention to housing discrimination might include protecting the Latino immigrants about whom King has said so many unkind things, including calling them dogs.

On housing discrimination, Castro’s HUD has been more than talk:

  • Just last week, HUD charged the owners of a 36-unit complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with discrimination against a person with a disability due to the landlord’s imposition of overly burdensome requirements on the resident’s use of a support dog. In June, it did the same against the owners of an apartment building in Salt Lake City.
  • In Miami, HUD took action against the Alta Vista Townhomes Condominium Association which had been discriminating against black and Hispanic Section 8 housing voucher tenants due to harassing remarks by the condo association president and taking a number of discriminatory actions such as contriving rules violations in order to evict them.
  • HUD recently reached settlements with the owners of a 200-unit apartment complex in Kihei, Hawaii and a small development in Carson City, Nevada for discriminating against families with children in their rental policies and practices.

Perhaps King is conflating Castro’s potential future political career with developments in his home state where the Latino population has increased by 105 percent between 2000 and 2013, but few Latinos hold public office in the state. Last month, Latino leaders in Iowa created the Latino Political Network to train potential candidates for public service. Perhaps King is also upset that Hillary Clinton recruited Lorella Praeli, the former head of the United We Dream nonprofit advocacy group, to be her Latino outreach director—Praeli’s organization may have been perceived by King as the nonprofit that supports those young immigrants with calves the size of cantaloupes.

Regardless of King’s position on immigration reform, nonprofits have to speak out against his playing fast and loose with racial and ethnic identities in a way that makes light of the real issues faced by Latino immigrants in this country—and in King’s congressional district.—Rick Cohen