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In Context: Scott Walker and 'birthright citizenship'

Gov. Scott Walker talks to the media Aug. 17, 2015 at the Iowa State Fair -- where he initially made comments on 'birthright citizenship' that he has been working to untangle. (Image from Getty) Gov. Scott Walker talks to the media Aug. 17, 2015 at the Iowa State Fair -- where he initially made comments on 'birthright citizenship' that he has been working to untangle. (Image from Getty)

Gov. Scott Walker talks to the media Aug. 17, 2015 at the Iowa State Fair -- where he initially made comments on 'birthright citizenship' that he has been working to untangle. (Image from Getty)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 24, 2015

Articulating positions on immigration continues to hinder Gov. Scott Walker on the presidential campaign trail.

First, it was Walker changing positions on a "pathway to citizenship."

Now -- thanks to an even more incendiary issue raised by fellow GOP contender Donald Trump -- Walker has given seemingly contradictory statements on where he stands on "birthright citizenship."

"The most charitable explanation would be that in an evolving campaign, Walker's trying to figure out where he is on this issue and really talking before he thinks it through," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa.

"The least charitable explanation is it looks as though he's trying to create a response based on what he thinks will sell politically. Maybe the answer is somewhere between the two poles, I don't know."

In February 2015, we gave Walker a Half Flip on our Flip-O-Meter for making statements that were inconsistent with his previous support for a pathway to citizenship -- that is, conditions that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States and eventually get citizenship.

That changed to a Full Flop a month later, after Walker disavowed his support for a pathway.

Now, Walker has found himself tied in knots on so-called birthright citizenship. Given the lack of clarity on just what his position is, we’re using our In Context feature -- which highlights a politician’s own words -- to lay out the shifts.

Birthright citizenship was first made law by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, primarily to grant legal status to emancipated slaves. The amendment says that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Walker has been asked several times about birthright citizenship since Trump proposed to end automatic citizenship for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

As we’ll see in this Monday-through-Sunday chronology -- from comments in Iowa on Aug. 17, 2015 through an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Aug. 23, 2015 -- Walker's statements on birthright citizenship have varied considerably.

Monday morning: Expresses concerns

At  the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 17, 2015, Walker was repeatedly asked by reporters whether he wants to end birthright citizenship. In responding, according to the Washington Post, Walker at one point referred to the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, saying:

"I think in terms of changing it: Even Harry Reid, even Harry Reid said that it’s not right for a country to Americanize birthright for people who have not -- for families who have not come in legally. But in terms of going forward, I'm going to support a legal immigration system that puts a priority on the impact on American working families and their wages."

Later Monday morning: Appears to back ending birthright citizenship

Here’s an exchange at the fair between Walker and MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt:

Hunt: 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 —

Hunt: 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.

Hunt: And you should deport the children of people who are illegal immigrants?

Walker: I didn’t say that — I said you have to enforce the law, which to me is focusing on E-Verify.

(E-Verify is a federal, Internet-based system that employers can use to verify whether someone is authorized to work in the United States.)

Monday afternoon: Avoids Constitution question

Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson asked Walker: "The Constitution says that if you’re born here you’re an American citizen. Do you believe in that? Would you be up for changing that?"

Walker responded: "Well, again, I think before we start talking about anything else beyond securing the border, enforcing the laws and having a legal immigration system that works and gives priority for American working families, Americans aren’t going to trust politicians to talk about other things until they feel confident they're going to do those things. So I think we need to reform that first…"

Monday evening: Back pedaling

During a campaign stop in Webster City, Iowa, Johnson asked Walker to explain his comments in the MSNBC interview. He responded:

"We had a three-hour roving gaggle there, and so you answer part of a question, somebody turns and asks you something. And my point is: Yeah, I empathize with people who have concerns about that, but until we fundamentally secure the border and enforce the law ...."

Johnson reported that another reporter interjected and asked whether changing birthright citizenship would be on the table once the border is secure. Walker responded: "We will talk about things in the future."

Thursday: Avoiding a position

At a press gaggle Aug. 20, 2015, in Hillsborough, N.H., Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked: "Can you clarify whether you’re calling for an end to birthright citizenship?"

Walker responded: "What I’ve said of late … is exactly the same as what I’ve said since earlier this year when I talked about this with (Fox News Sunday host) Chris Wallace, and that is to talk about the need to secure the border, enforce the laws, no amnesty and go forward in way that ultimately puts a priority on American working families, and their wages, and in a way that will improve the American economy.  

"My point the other day when someone asked about it, is I understand people’s concerns about it, but until we focus on securing the border and enforcing the laws, we shouldn’t be talking about anything else, and if we do those things, it takes care of the concerns people raise about that or any other similar issue."

Later Thursday: More of same

At a press gaggle in Sunapee, NH., Walker was questioned again about birthright citizenship and repeated that the focus should be on securing border and enforcing laws and "if we do that then all these other debates become a sideshow."

Friday: "Not taking a position"

In an Aug. 21, 2015 interview, CNBC's John Harwood asked: "So, do people actually misunderstand, you’re not for ending birthright citizenship?"

Walker replied: "I’m not taking a position on it one way or the other. I'm saying that until you secure the border and enforce the laws, any discussion about anything else is really looking past the very things we have to do."

Sunday: Not change amendment

Here’s the key portion of the Aug. 23, 2015 "This Week" interview, as George Stephanopoulos pressed Walker about the Fourteenth Amendment:

Stephanopoulos: I understand that’s what you feel we have to address, but this is simply a yes or no question. Do you support that line of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Walker: Well, I said the law is there. And we need to enforce the laws including those that are in the Constitution. My point is having this debate about anything else when we don’t have politicians who are committed to actually securing the border and enforcing the laws, which means very simply in our country E-Verify. Making sure that every employer ensure that the people working for them are legal to work in this state -- in this country. That will resolve the problems you’re talking about and that’s what I’ve been talking about this week.

Stephanopoulos: So you’re not seeking to repeal or alter the Fourteenth Amendment.

Walker: No. My point is any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the 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 because those politicians haven’t been committed to following through on those promises.

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Our Sources

PunditFact, "Fact-checking the Aug. 23 Sunday shows," Aug. 23, 2015

Washington Post, "On birthright citizenship, Scott Walker takes yet another stance: Don’t change the Constitution," Aug. 23, 2015

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker disavows support for path to citizenship," (Full Flop) March 6, 2015

Email exchange, Gov. Scott Walker campaign spokeswoman Stacy Day, Aug. 24, 2015

MSNBC, transcript of Gov. Scott Walker interview, Aug. 17, 2015

CNBC, video of Gov. Scott Walker interview, Aug. 21, 2015

ABC, transcript of Gov. Scott Walker interview, Aug. 23, 2015

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In Context: Scott Walker and 'birthright citizenship'