Presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is having a tough time staking out a position on a controversial issue that has divided the GOP field over the past week.
In that time, Walker has given three different answers on whether he supports ending birthright citizenship, a right enumerated in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It automatically grants American citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
Speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Walker cemented his shift from the prior week. He gave an unequivocal “no” when asked about whether he supported ending birthright citizenship, a policy that has been more or less unchanged since the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.
Walker’s comments came only several days after he said he would not take a position on the issue, and represent a complete 180-degree turn from his position less than a week earlier. On Monday, Walker told an MSNBC reporter that he favoured ending birthright citizenship:
Reporter: Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?
Walker: Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it’s not right for this country. I think that’s something we should, yeah absolutely, going forward —
Reporter: We should end birthright citizenship?
Walker: Yeah, to me, it’s about enforcing the laws in this country. And I’ve been very clear. I think you enforce the laws, and I think it’s important to send a message that we’re going to enforce the laws. No matter how people come here, we’re going to enforce the laws in this country.
When Business Insider asked Walker’s campaign to clarify his position last week, a campaign spokesperson emphasised that birthright citizenship would not be an issue if border security was enforced.
“We have to enforce the laws, keep people from coming here illegally, enforce e-verify to stop the jobs magnet, and by addressing the root problems we will end the birthright citizenship problem,” the spokesperson said.
The issue — first raised by current front-runner Donald Trump in his immigration plan released last week — has driven a wedge in the GOP field. The notion of repealing the provision has gained some support — from Trump to some of the lower-polling candidates. It has led to a debate over so-called “anchor babies,” a slur directed at the children of immigrants living in the US illegally.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) all quickly declared their support for ending the provision. They joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), who have said in the past that they’d end the practice.
Others — like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and now Walker — have all refused to support ending birthright citizenship, instead saying that they would focus on increasing border security in order to stop non-US citizens from coming the the US to have children in the first place.
The issue puts Republican candidates in a tight spot. On the one hand, GOP voters tend to support strong border security measures.
According to a recent CNN poll, 55% of Republicans support deporting immigrants living the US illegally. A Pew Research survey earlier this year found that 58% of Republicans said that granting legal status to immigrants living in the US without permission was rewarding immigrants for breaking the law, and 63% of Republicans said the immigrants are a “burden” on the US economy.
Birthright citizenship, specifically, hasn’t been tackled by a major public-polling outlet in a number of years. But those statistics on immigration suggest that Republican presidential candidates are banking on a good number of their base voters supporting hard-line immigration positions.
But some Republicans are wary that the continued focus on immigration could damage the party with Hispanic and Latino voters, who Republicans themselves admit were driven away from the party due to divisive rhetoric from party members in the past.
Walker and Bush have both attempted to downplay the issue of birthright citizenship by noting how difficult it would be to change the law.
“Any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there who for years have heard lip service from politicians and are understandably angry,” Walker told Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
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