Blog Post

"Cantaloupe Calved Mules" or Valedictorians? The Intersection of Immigration Reform and the Drug War

Laura Pegram

Recent remarks by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) illustrate the most basic fear-mongering tactics used in the drug war — juxtaposing the race stereotyping of black and brown people with excessive involvement in the drug trade in America. While the drug war has always been disproportionately targeted at communities of color, it is increasingly becoming a war waged against immigrant communities in particular.

This past week, in the midst of House deliberations concerning comprehensive immigration reform, Rep. King said in regard to the DREAMers that “for every one that is a valedictorian, there are another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and have calves the size of cantaloupes because they've been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Later, he continued this offensive and ill-informed diatribe by saying “We have people that are mules, that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they've been doing for months…”

Such racial and cultural stereotyping aims to create and permeate repressive immigration strategies using inaccurate and conflated drug war rhetoric.  In the end, this is an attempt to justify the use of racial profiling when it is used in relation to drug issues and scapegoats immigrant communities as somehow responsible for the presence and use of drugs within America – a stereotype that is blatantly false.

Immigrant rights and Latino/a communities have continually struggled for legitimacy and basic social protections in America; offensive, generalizing stereotypes linking the majority of young Latino/as in the U.S. as being subhuman (mules), deformed (cantaloupe-calved) drug smugglers is just the most recent attempt by a politician to promote and disseminate such dehumanizing, inaccurate and scapegoating propaganda in relation to the drug war.

In fact, the realities of the drug war look very different from what King presents. According to a recent study by the Center for Investigative Reporting, four of five smugglers intercepted at the U.S. border are U.S. citizens, not undocumented immigrants — and certainly not the stereotyped images to which King is appallingly giving voice within the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

Such ignorant and discriminatory rhetoric has no place in the vital public debates occurring in the US about fixing our broken immigration system and ending our failed drug war.  I urge to you to join our allies at and call for Rep. Steve King’s removal from the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

Laura Pegram is a policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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