A 13-year-old U.S. citizen of undocumented parents living in Wisconsin twice confronted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, in Iowa on Sunday to ask why their state was part of a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive action on deportation relief for upwards of five million immigrants.
During the five-minute exchange obtained by Voces de la Frontera, Walker told 13-year-old Leslie Flores, “I completely sympathize with the situation you’re all in and others are in,” but said that he wouldn’t drop Wisconsin from the lawsuit because “the president of the United States can’t make law without going through the Congress.”
Turning to address Leslie’s family, Walker accused Obama of having the chance to fix immigration in his first two years in office, but failing to do so. Walker added that as president, he would make sure to secure the borders and put “in place a system that enforces the laws, and then, then the next president and Congress can deal with these issues going forward. But right now, I’m not blocking anything.”
Leslie was in Iowa with her seven-year-old brother Louis and her undocumented father Jose.
Before breaking out into tears, Louis asked Walker, “Do you want me to like come home and come from school and my dad get deported?” Walker sidestepped, stating that he had two nieces who go to school in Waukesha, but that his point was “in America nobody’s above the law.” Instead of addressing the topic of deportation, Walker stated that he hoped kids like Louis would learn in school that “the President and the Congress have to work together.”
When Jose jumped in later, asking if Wisconsin could be dropped from the lawsuit, Walker stated, “I agree with it, I support the lawsuit because the President can’t be above the law.”
Watch the extended confrontation here:
Walker has a long history of flip-flopping on immigration reform, reportedly telling people privately that he would support some sort of legal status for undocumented immigrants, but soon after the comments were made public, his spokeswoman said “we strongly dispute this account.” He’s since maintained that he rejected so-called “amnesty,” or the ability for some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and perhaps earn legal status of some kind.
And a well-known conservative Heritage Foundation scholar who supports an immigration overhaul recently recanted his account of a private phone call with the Wisconsin governor in which Walker allegedly said, “I’m not going nativist, I’m pro-immigration.”
During his time as governor, Walker repealed in-state tuition for undocumented students, mandated immigration background checks in all 72 Wisconsin counties, and supported a lawsuit to rollback on President Obama’s executive action on immigration that would have provided deportation relief and work authorization for upwards of five millions of immigrants.
Obama’s executive actions are currently halted from moving forward after a Texas judge issued an injunction in February. Jose would have likely qualified for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which would have shielded parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from deportation. In the meantime, even undocumented immigrants without serious offenses are still at risk of deportation and separation from their families.
Last December, Walker requested Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen join the multi-state lawsuit led by Texas. At the time, Walker condemned the president’s executive actions for exceeding “the limits of his administrative powers.”
But in the past, Walker twice signed resolutions backing programs that would have granted legal status to undocumented immigrants as a county executive in Milwaukee County. And in 2013, Walker endorsed legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Jose Flores is one of about 85,000 undocumented immigrants living in Wisconsin, a 2012 Pew Hispanic Center report found. But he is also one of 25,000 undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin who are potentially eligible for the president’s expanded deferred action program.
A Center for American Progress report estimated that if undocumented immigrants, like Jose, “are able to receive a temporary work permit, it would lead to a $19 million increase in tax revenues for Wisconsin, over five years.”