Rep. Steve King at CPAC: Immigration policy should be based on "contribution"

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, on CBS' "Face the Nation," Dec. 11, 2011. CBS

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WASHINGTON -- Republican Rep. Steve King said in an interview Thursday that U.S. immigration policy should be based on immigrants' ability to "contribute" to the country.

"We're seeing efforts to subdivide our culture and our civilization," King told Hotsheet in an interview after a panel discussion at the Conference Political Action Conference (CPAC). He was talking about the influx of immigrants into the country over the past couple of decades.

King says today's immigrants are retreating into their own enclave, failing to participate in American society and reaping the benefits of government services, including the safety net.

The U.S. has "no criteria that measures [immigrants'] contribution or their ability to contribute to the United States," King said.

King said it didn't always used to be that way. He said in the past (when most of the immigrants were predominantly European), immigrants were the "cream of the crop." He often refers to his ancestors and their journey to the U.S. During the session, King said previous generations of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island would have to undergo a test and "2 percent didn't meet high enough standards so they were put back on the boat."

King said the U.S. should employ a similar type of immigration system today.

"I think we need to have an immigration policy that selects those who can contribute the most to society," King told Hotsheet. "The United States should have an immigration policy designed to enhance the economic, the social and the cultural well-being of that nation."

The Iowa Republican, who is popular among many conservatives for his stance and rhetoric on immigration, made a surprise appearance at the session, which was called "The failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening American Identity."

King has long been known as a champion for making English the official language of the U.S.

"We've been the most successful country when it comes to assimilation and that's because we're bound together with a common language," King said. Yet, he said, that is being threatened.

"Liberals have put us under assault for generations now, they're not proud of who we are," he added. "They're trying to change this country into something else."

King pointed to the European Union adopting English as its official language as proof of the supremecy of the the U.S.'s dominant tongue.

"It's a language of success," he said, adding that that the rest of the world would choose English, too. "You know that English would be the choice of all those people if they had the choice today," he said.

The congressman said he would like the English language provision to be part of the Constitution, but that he would be "satisfied to pass it as a federal statute."  The Republican-led House has not yet pass his plan out of committee.

King has also introduced legislation to do away with birthright citizenship, which gives the children of immigrants automatic citizenship, regardless of the parents' legal status. 

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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