kingcuccinelliimmigration726575ga
Ken Cuccinelli (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images); Steve King (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- Days ago, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) sparked cries of racism because of his comments about the children of illegal immigrants. King attacked the so-called Dreamers, who have helped drive the immigration-reform movement the last few years.

These young people were the focus of the Dream Act, which was intended to ease the path to citizenship for those who were brought here illegally as children and have grown into model adults. But King is not moved by stories of Dreamers who serve their country and graduate at the top of their classes. He said in an interview, "For everyone 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're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is working on legislation to provide citizenship for young Dreamers, said of King's remarks, "I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable."

But just as the GOP was putting out one fire, another erupted. Today comments were unearthed in which Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli likened immigration policy to pest control. During a discussion of an act affecting pest and animal control in Washington, D.C., Cuccinelli, who is running for governor of Virginia, said, "So, anyway, it is worse than our immigration policy. You can't break up rat families. Or raccoons, and all the rest, and you can't even kill 'em. It's unbelievable."

Cuccinelli's comments appear to be a reference to concerns expressed by advocates of illegal immigrants who note that deportation often separates families, with young children at times remaining in United States while their parents may be sent to their home country.

Cuccinelli's inflammatory remarks cap what has been a tough few months for the GOP in terms of race. Two of the party's rising stars, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), faced criticism for supporters who were revealed to have ties to white supremacist groups.

This week the Republican National Committee touted the warm reception of its chairman, Reince Priebus, at a gathering of the African American Chamber of Commerce. Under Priebus' leadership, the party has begun investing more resources in minority outreach. But consistent headlines that cast a spotlight on intolerance in the party are making the GOP's efforts to make inroads with minorities tough.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.