With Monday’s announcement, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will become the 16th Republican presidential candidate running in 2016. Whether Walker would implement laws that could help the majority of Americans can perhaps best be evidenced from his four years running Wisconsin as governor. And at a time when the Republican presidential candidates are hoping to win over Latinos, Walker’s track record on immigration policies as governor doesn’t bode well for Latino voters, many of whom consider immigration reform to be a top priority.
Walker’s political stance on immigration reform has been elusive. He made headlines in March for his supposed flip-flop on immigration, allegedly supporting a path to citizenship in private circles before denouncing such an idea. He recently emphasized that he doesn’t “believe in amnesty,” or the ability for some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and perhaps earn legal status of some kind.
But as governor, Walker’s actions on immigration have been more clear-cut. He has supported some of the country’s most stringent policies that have made life more difficult for immigrants and their families:
Taking away in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
“Individuals who do not reside in our state legally should not be getting taxpayer subsidized tuition,” Walker said in 2011, repealing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants who graduated from Wisconsin high schools.
Only about 100 undocumented immigrants benefited from the short-lived program that former Gov. Jim Doyle (D) previously signed into law. The immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera told the Wisconsin State Journal that “so few students enrolled in the program that the cost to the state is virtually insignificant.”
In-state resident students pay on average $455 per credit at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, while out-of-state residents pay more than double, around $1,132. Meanwhile, the average undocumented family’s annual income level is $36,000.
Christian Pacheco, an undocumented immigrant, wasn’t sure if he could afford tuition at the out-of-state price. “I’ve stayed out of trouble and gotten the best grades I can,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “I don’t want to fall behind and then not do anything with my life.”
Mandating immigration background checks in all 72 Wisconsin counties.
In 2011, all 72 counties in Wisconsin were mandated to participate in Secure Communities, a federal information sharing system that allows local law enforcement officials to share suspected undocumented immigrants’ biometric information — like fingerprints — with federal immigration officials. The program also allows local law enforcement officials to detain immigrants on behalf of the federal immigration agency for potential deportation proceedings.
Marisa Leza, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant, is now the sole breadwinner for her family after a firsthand experience with Secure Communities. Her father, who worked in the dairy industry, was deported two years ago to Mexico after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency raid nabbed him. They ran his fingerprints against a background check and found that he had a criminal background for leaving the U.S. for a family member who passed away and re-entering the southern U.S. border in 1997, then again when he got into a car accident in 2012 and was found not to have a license. Most undocumented immigrants are able to obtain driver’s licenses in Wisconsin.
“He was a very hardworking man,” Leza told ThinkProgress, holding back tears as she recalled the day that she frantically tried to track down her father after he was taken to an immigrant detention center in the state. “We really didn’t know where he was taken. There was no communication and there was no ability to contact him. We were clueless… We were [eventually] able to visit him once or twice. He was there for two weeks and taken to the Chicago airport. He did not sign anything whatsoever and he was taken [to Mexico].”
One study found that immigration enforcement programs like Secure Communities are missing their intended targets, and are instead most successful at driving out college-educated immigrants. Another University of Chicago and New York University study found that “Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate. Nor has it reduced rates of violent crime — homicide, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault.”
Supporting a lawsuit to rollback on President Obama’s executive action on immigration.
Last December, Wisconsin signed onto a lawsuit challenging the president’s executive action announcement to shield as many as five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“Fortunately no one in my family has been deported, but … to have that consciousness that all the time, no matter what you’re doing, if you got stopped, it could be you,” Elizabeth Perez, a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant, told ThinkProgress. Her family has been in the United States for 16 years. Through her U.S. citizen siblings, her two parents would have qualified for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which is part of the executive action that would have provided work authorization and deportation relief. But since the program was stalled by a temporary injunction, families like Perez’s have remained fearful of deportation.
“Obama’s announcement was what we’ve been waiting for,” Perez said. “It was what we’ve been waiting for, not exactly, but you know, it’s a start. Any help we can get, of course we’ll take it. But [the lawsuit] is like a step forward and two steps back. We just want to be like everyone else… it was so disappointing because my parents have been waiting. We’re not rapists, we’re not criminals. We’re just here to work and provide for our family.”