Public seems less conflicted about immigrants than law makers are

Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

If early birds get the worms, then early presidential candidates get the questions. But citizens may not get early answers.

Consider Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the immigration debate swirling around President Barack Obama’s move to shield as many as five million immigrants from deportation.

Walker has added Wisconsin to 16 other states which are challenging Obama’s order and his ability to use presidential executive actions to achieve the shield. The lawsuit is being led by Texas, which has large immigrant – both legal and illegal – populations.

Walker is among 16 political figures being mentioned as possible members of the Republican national ticket in 2016. Like a good, dutiful Republican, Walker has denounced Obama’s action.

But Walker has declined to say what he, if elected president, would propose to counter illegal immigration. Nor has the governor indicated how his state administration would react to Obama’s move. Walker is not in the top tier of possible Republican presidential candidates.

Outlining a possible approach would certainly invite attention and, if well-received, heighten his aspiration to live in the White House.

The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute estimates that two years ago there were 76,000 illegal immigrants living in Wisconsin. About 75 percent of these immigrants have been living in the state for at least five years.

Seventy-six percent of the Wisconsin immigrants came from Mexico, according to estimates. That is the seventh-largest population of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Many of the immigrants work in agriculture, especially large dairy farms.

Last year, the Marquette University Law School poll asked Wisconsin citizens what action they favored on illegal immigrants living in the state.

Some 52 percent of respondents polled favored allowing those currently working in the United States to stay in their jobs and apply for citizenship. That is something that Obama’s order would allow.

Twenty-four percent favored deporting the illegal immigrants, and 20 percent favored allowing them to stay as temporary guest workers. The guest-worker approach would seem to help limit wages paid by their employers.

A Wisconsin Farm Bureau spokesman told the Associated Press that its members need a flexible visa program for workers to enter the United States. The Farm Bureau is a strong political force in neighboring Iowa which has the first presidential delegation selection. Walker needs to do well in Iowa in 2016 to keep his national political hopes alive.

Immigration issues are not new to Wisconsin. Many families from Southeast Asia who stood with American troops during the Vietnam War era are now living in the Badger State. Over past decades, others came illegally from Mexico and other Latin American countries to take jobs and lead a new life in Wisconsin.

More than 30 years ago the immigration backlash showed up in calls by some legislators to limit teaching in public school to only the English language. But Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus remembered the state’s heritage. German was widely used in Milwaukee in the first half of the 20th century. He also pointed out that Norwegian had been used in Lutheran services at a church near the State Capitol.

Now Spanish is used in a Catholic church just two blocks away from that Lutheran church.

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