DES MOINES, Iowa
Gov. Bobby Jindal went head-to-head with pro-amnesty immigration advocates who attempted to disrupt his speech at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday.
Jindal, a Republican who is running for president, took the famed “soap box” stage at the fair Saturday afternoon, with a speech heavy with calls for stricter immigration enforcement and the need for assimilation.
“If you want to come to our country, come here legally and speak English,” Jindal said, gesturing toward a crowd of protestors who were chanting, “Citizenship now” and “We want freedom,” through his speech.
“If you want freedom, follow the law,” said Jindal, who was born in Baton Rouge after his parents immigrated from India. “Do what my parents did. ... When my parents came to this country, they did so legally.”
Jindal’s fair speech, which lasted about 20 minutes, appeared to be well-received by the rest of the crowd, which erupted in applause at several points. In addition to his immigration remarks, Jindal criticized the Republican establishment and took thinly-veiled jabs at his rivals for the GOP’s presidential nomination.
“We are tired of politicians who say one thing and do another,” Jindal said.
After his speech, Jindal spent at least 15 minutes directly talking to a small group of protestors who followed him as he made his way to the Iowa GOP booth.
Des Moines resident Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, a native of Venezuela, questioned Jindal’s objection to the use of “hyphenated American” descriptors — Jindal has said he believes people should be called Americans, rather than using terms like Asian-American, Indian-American or African-American. Marcano-Kelly told him she thinks diversity enhances the country and said she took offense to remarks he made in his speech.
“I don’t believe anybody is automatically entitled to come here to our country and be Americans. That’s a privilege,” Jindal responded. “We want people who want to be Americans, who want to assimilate.”
Marcano-Kelly and two others attempted to pull sway by noting Jindal’s family’s immigration story, but he repeatedly stressed that his parents came to the United States legally. Jindal’s father, an engineer, qualified for a green card under a 1965 law for people with “exceptional ability in the sciences or arts,” and Jindal’s mother was then able to get a spouse green card. Jindal was born a U.S. citizen a few months later.
After the lengthy back-and-forth with the immigration advocates, Jindal shook each of their hands, telling them, “We’ll agree to disagree and that’s OK. ... I appreciate your passion.”
The Iowa caucuses take place Feb. 1, and Jindal’s campaign has made a big finish in Iowa central to its strategy. The governor has town hall meetings and other campaign appearances lined up here through at least Wednesday and is slated to return the following week.
Dressed in a white polo shirt, dark jeans and leather cowboy boots, Jindal spent more than four hours mingling around the fair, greeting attendees on the concession stand-lined midway and making several stops along the route.
He donned a red apron and flipped burgers at the Iowa Pork Producers tent and munched on a pork chop on a stick.
“We’re gonna win Iowa. We’re gonna win the general election,” Jindal said.
Jindal said he believes momentum is building in Iowa as he holds stops in each of the state’s 99 counties.
“We’re seeing larger and larger crowds,” he said. “We’re gonna continue working hard on the ground.”
Tom Wagenknecht, of Carlisle, said he had never seen Jindal speak in person before Saturday’s fair speech.
“He just moved from my No. 6 choice to No. 3,” Wagenknecht said. “I liked everything he said.”
He said he especially liked how Jindal responded to the protestors.
“I was impressed,” he said.
Larry Lauters, of Runnells, also used the word “impressed” to describe his reaction to Jindal’s speech. He previously saw Jindal speak at a town hall meeting.
“He’s my No. 1 pick,” Lauters said. “What’s not to like?”
As Jindal walked through the fair, passersby often gawked and whispered, “That’s Bobby Jindal.”
Jindal pulled many of them in to take a photo, greeting each with, “What’s your name? I’m Bobby.”
Susie Drish of Cedar Rapids was one of the fairgoers who wanted to snap a photo with Jindal, though she said she’s still on the fence about which candidate to decide come February.
“He’s one of the frontrunners in my mind. He has so many good qualities,” Drish said. “We need a strong Republican in the White House.”
She said she thinks it’s too early to write off Jindal’s campaign, despite low polling numbers.
“More people just need to hear about him,” she said.