Wisconsin is known for its cheese. But, when talking about immigration, Gov. Scott Walker is becoming famous for his whine.
In recent weeks, Walker has flip-flopped, gotten facts wrong, and pandered to extremists.
During a recent trip to Iowa, the likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate did all three. While being interviewed by a conservative website, Walker was asked what should be done about immigration. He responded: “Number of things. Border security for sure. Unlike this president, I’ve actually gone to the border and been there with the governor of Texas.”
But during a 2013 meeting with the Wausau Daily Herald editorial board, the governor said: “You hear some people talk about border security and a wall and all that. To me, I don’t know that you need any of that if you had a better, saner way to let people into the country in the first place.”
Now, by starting with border security, Walker is in full-out pander mode and sounds a lot like “some people.”
Also, PolitiFact determined that the Republican was wrong about President Barack Obama not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama has actually done that once, and only once, the site pointed out, when he traveled to El Paso on May 10, 2011. So it rated Walker’s claim as “False” on its Truth-O-Meter.
What’s more worrisome is that the likely presidential candidate has veered off into a discussion about limiting legal immigration.
Walker recently tried to cozy up to right-wing radio host Glenn Beck by expressing support for the idea, advanced by shortsighted lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, that the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States should be determined by the job prospects and salary requirements of U.S. workers.
The governor told Beck: “In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying ... the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.”
This is crazy talk. When deciding appropriate levels of legal immigration, Americans ought to consider everything from the skills of the immigrants to what jobs need to be filled in the United States. But not the job security or desired wages of U.S. workers.
It’s scary to think that there are those who believe that, as long as there is a substantial number of Americans out of work, the drawbridge should stay up — even if it keeps out those who play by the rules and try to come legally. This includes people like the parents of two other 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Letting economic concerns of U.S. workers call the shots when deciding levels of legal immigration for the United States is dishonest, harmful, self-defeating, unfair and dangerous. It’s dishonest because Americans like to pretend that they only want to keep out illegal immigrants. It’s harmful because it teaches U.S. workers they’re entitled to a job and a certain wage. It’s self-defeating because, in the age of globalization, it makes America less competitive. It’s unfair because we tell migrants that, if they come legally, they’ll be welcomed.
And it’s dangerous because once you lump together nonwhite legal immigrants from India, China or Mozambique with nonwhite illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, it’s a short walk to the ugly nativism that already fuels too much of the immigration debate.
Guess who might have agreed with those arguments? In that same editorial board meeting in 2013, Walker said that providing illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship “makes sense” and declared: “If people want to come here and work hard in America, I don’t care whether they come from Mexico or Canada or Ireland or Germany or South Africa or anywhere else, I want ’em here.”
Oh boy. How many Scott Walkers are there?
A Walker representative has acknowledged that the governor’s position on illegal immigration has changed. Does that go for his views on legal immigration as well? If so, is this a permanent thing, or can we expect it to change back?
This business about putting U.S. workers first is right out of the musty old playbook used by unions that claim immigrants hurt the economy by taking jobs and driving down wages.
Say, maybe Scott Walker ought to run for president after all — as a Democrat.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.