Gov. Scott Walker’s latest attempt to clarify his muddled and contradictory immigration stance actually hurts, not helps, him – on both policy and political grounds.
In case you’ve missed Walker’s dizzying reversals on immigration: after voicing support for a pathway to citizenship on numerous occasions, Walker said in early March that his views had changed and that he now opposed such a position. However, Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal reported that Walker told a group of donors at a March 13th private dinner that he actually did still support citizenship – an account that the candidate and his campaign team denied. As John McCormick of Bloomberg assessed, the immigration controversy was “damaging Walker’s standing as an early front-runner among prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidates … It fits with a storyline Walker rivals have pushed that he’s an opportunistic politician who has softened his position on ethanol when in Iowa and abortion when facing a re-election race in 2014.”
Walker headed to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas last Friday to tour the border, and attempted to extricate himself from his self-created political predicament with yet another “clarification” on his immigration stance. According to Patrick Svitek of the Texas Tribune, Gov. Walker said: “if somebody wants to be a citizen, they need to go back to their country of origin, get in line, no preferential treatment … In terms of what to do beyond that, again, that’s something we got to work with Congress on.”
In other words, Walker seems to be endorsing the ridiculous “report to deport” concept. The “report to deport” idea has been touted before by Republican politicians, most notably by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and former Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) a decade ago. It’s the height of fantasy to think that undocumented immigrants will risk everything and willingly leave their lives and families in America to return to a nation that is no longer home in order to apply to perhaps return one day to the very nation in which they now live. That it manages to be simultaneously offensive and unworkable is one reason the notion has been thoroughly discredited as a policy proposal.
From a broader perspective, the ongoing Walker immigration controversy shows that immigration remains the GOP’s kryptonite (or as Nicholas Riccardi of the Associated Press phrased it, “the banana peel of 2016 Republican presidential politics”). Candidates are tying themselves in knots trying to appeal to both the hardline anti-immigrant voters overrepresented in Republican primary season, while hoping to avoid the Romney mistakes of having anti-immigrant primary stances destroy their competitiveness with Latino, Asian-American, and other pro-reform voters in the general election.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “ Walker’s touting of ‘report to deport’ represents a further embrace of hardline and unworkable immigration policy at odds with his past endorsement of sensible reform. Politically, it might as well have the Mitt Romney 2012 seal of approval, as it’s tilting dangerously toward the infamous ‘self-deportation’ concept. Not only does the transparent pandering to hardline primary voters threaten the eventual Republican nominee’s chances of retaking the White House, but it goes beyond immigration to raise larger questions and concerns of character, consistency and leadership.”