U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., admonished one of his constituents last week for wearing a T-shirt featuring a Mexican flag during a town hall meeting where the man asked a question about immigration.
Womack answered the man’s question about the possibility of legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. by saying that it is possible but unlikely given the current state of Congress. The man, whose name is unintelligible in a YouTube video from the town hall, identified himself as a Mexican-American from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Womack goes on to say that he finds the man’s choice of shirt interesting.
“[I]t does strike me as a bit odd that I would get a question as to why we shouldn’t just automatically make it legal for people who didn’t come here in a legal circumstance, with a flag of another country hanging around his neck,” Womack said.
“This is just some good old friendly advice,” Womack added. “If you want to win friends and influence people on the issues that you are talking about, I would suggest a little different approach in terms of my attire when I’m appealing to an audience like this."
The Arkansas congressman has been embroiled in the politics of immigration since his time as the mayor of Rogers, Arkansas from 1998 to 2011. In his campaign for mayor, Womack ran on a restrictionist platform and in 1999 he assigned two Immigration and Naturalization Service agents – the predecessor to the current enforcement branch, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – to the Rogers’ police department.
The U.S. Senate recently passed an immigration bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the country and more funding for security along the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The bill has yet to be passed by the House of Representatives.
After Womack's exchange with the Latino constituent went viral on YouTube, the congressman clarified his position on what took place, noting that he didn't mean to offend -- but sticking to his point in providing the man some advice.
“Congressman Womack respects this young man’s pride in his heritage," said his spokeswoman, Claire Burghoff. "However, he firmly believes actions such as this – whether out of pride or provocation – are not constructive to the obviously divisive immigration debate.”