Immigration

How Scott Walker’s Immigration Comments May Have Just Alienated A Key Voting Bloc

CREDIT: AP

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

During an interview with radio personality Glenn Beck Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a likely presidential candidate, argued that the next president and Congress should focus on limiting legal immigration that’s “based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages,” the right-wing outlet Breitbart News reported.

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 that’s based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages, because the more I’ve talked to folks, I’ve talked to Senator Sessions and others out there—but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today—is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages, and we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.

Walker emphasized that he’s against granting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, stating “No amnesty, if someone wants to be a citizen, they have to go back to their country of origin and get in line behind everybody else who’s waiting.” He also called for securing the border after alluding to criminals who aren’t just smuggling drugs, but also firearms, and humans.

Walker’s criticism of legal immigrants could alienate one of the fastest-growing voter blocs in the United States: “New Americans,” which the American Immigration Council (AIC) defines as “immigrants who are naturalized citizens, and the (post-1965) native-born children of immigrants.” There were 18.1 million of these New Americans registered to vote in 2012, making up 11.8 percent of all registered voters. As the AIC pointed out, “the number of New American voters in 2012 exceeded the margin by which President Obama either won or lost the race in 12 states.”

There are another estimated 4.5 million U.S.-born citizens live in the United States with at least one undocumented parent. These family members “are personally connected to the struggles of immigrants and to the ways in which U.S. society reacts to and treats immigrants,” as the AIC puts it.

Those U.S.-born citizen children could become eligible to vote long before their parents ever could under any kind of pathway to citizenship scenario proposed by Congress — it would take 13 years under the Senate-approved comprehensive immigration reform bill, for example — but it’s these new voters who “may reward those who pass immigration reform,” a Center for American Progress study reported.

During Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential election, he lost the Latino vote by a historic margin after he called on undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.” About 3.3 million Latino citizens will turn 18 between 2012 and 2016. Of these, 57 percent, or nearly two million, are the children of immigrants.

What’s more, Walker’s contentious argument and close alignment with Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) stance that immigrants would take away American jobs and lower wages has also been debunked over and over again. Sessions has often cited Harvard professor and immigration skeptic George Borjas’ research on unskilled immigrant workers as the reason why American wages remain depressed. But as research shows, “immigrants have a small, but positive effect on the wages of native-workers, and in some cases lead to native workers entering higher-skilled jobs.”

Other Republican lawmakers quickly dismissed Walker’s suggestion Tuesday that legal immigrants take away American jobs. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told reporters, “I think most statistics show that they fill part of the workforce that are much needed. We have, and I’m a living example of, the aging population. We need these people in the workforce legally.” Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called Walker’s comments, “poppycock.”

Liz Mair, Walker’s former digital strategist who resigned amid disparaging remarks she made about Iowa, also criticized the governor. Mair wrote in a tweet, “Sad to see the full, Olympics-quality flip-flop by a former boss today. I guess some people think they can do what Romney did in 08 + win.”