Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s comments about security concerns along the U.S.-Canadian border have sparked a feverish backlash from Democrats and immigrant rights advocates who say the notion of a northern border wall is a preposterous idea.
Mr. Walker’s comments were the latest in what’s become a push in the Republican field to one-up one another on combating illegal immigration. Mr. Walker in particular has doubled down on trying to secure borders — and, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this weekend, said that includes the northern border, which usually draws less attention.
“Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire,” Mr. Walker said when asked about security and the idea of a wall on the northern border. “They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for [us] to look at.”
Border barriers have been a hot topic for years, but the debate got a kick-start this summer when Mr. Trump said more fencing is needed on the U.S.-Mexico line, and said he would find a way to make Mexico pay for building it.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a 2016 GOP rival of Mr. Walker and Mr. Trump, mocked both Mr. Trump’s idea and the notion of a northern border wall Monday.
“There have been a lot of dumb ideas put out … one that the Mexicans will pay for the wall was probably the dumbest of dumb ideas, but putting a wall up between us and Canada is sort of a ridiculous notion,” Mr. Paul said on Boston Herald radio.
Already, about 650 miles of barriers have been built along the 1,933-mile-long southern border. About 350 miles of that is pedestrian fencing, which deters would-be crossers, while the rest is made up of vehicle barriers, which stop cars and trucks but do not deter foot traffic.
Vehicle barriers are generally used in remote desert locations where foot traffic is less common.
But the 1,538-mile border between the Lower 48 states and Canada has almost no fencing — and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat who represents Vermont, with 90 miles of that border, mocked the idea of building barriers, saying the ties between the two countries have always been strong.
“Election season always brings out crazy ideas, but this is one of the craziest,” he said, adding for good measure that if his wife Marcelle’s parents were still alive, “they would say the same thing, but in French.”
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that yet another Republican presidential candidate is using the border to score cheap political points,” Mr. Leahy said.
Many of the GOP presidential contenders have been forced to take stringent immigration stands in response to Mr. Trump, who, in addition to fencing, called for illegal immigrants to be required to leave the country, and said he would try to change the birthright policy that grants U.S. citizenship to almost all babies born in the U.S., including to illegal immigrant mothers.
“It’s sort of like everybody’s now competing to say, ‘Oh no, I’ll put ‘em in camps,’ ‘Oh no, I’ll throw ‘em out,’ ‘Oh no, I’ll put everyone in jail,’ and ‘I’ll have an electric fence, and I’ll do this,’” Mr. Paul said. “There are places for walls in some of the big cities along the southern border, but we’ve gotten into this sort of shouting match about who can build a bigger wall … [and] now people are saying, ‘My wall will be as big as the Great Wall of China. How big will your wall be?’”
Apparently alluding to New Orleans, 2016 GOP contender and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted on Monday: “Govt can build a massive sea wall to keep out waves from the ocean but we can’t build a wall to keep out waves of illegals? #NoExcuses.”
Mr. Walker, however, has seemed to search for stances. He initially said he would try to end birthright citizenship, then backed off and said he didn’t want to take a stance until the border was secure.
His campaign on Monday said Mr. Walker isn’t calling for a border fence with Canada, but was instead signaling that he’s heard security concerns about the northern border that must be addressed.
Mr. Trump said recently the northern border is a “much different kind of situation” than the southwestern border and doesn’t need a wall.
“We have to police it; we have to be very vigilant; we have to be careful. But also the length — you’re talking about a tremendous length, a tremendous distance,” Mr. Trump said on Fox Business Network.
America’s Voice, a leading immigrant rights advocacy, said Mr. Walker was the latest entrant in the GOP’s “dumb and dumber approach on immigration.”
“Most Americans connected to reality understand that immigrants work hard, contribute to economic growth and are American in all but paperwork,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “Meanwhile, in the bizarre world of the GOP primary, trumped-up canards add up to a spasm of nativism that will doom the GOP’s chances in the 2016 general election.”
Speaking Sunday on NBC, Mr. Walker maintained that what he’s been saying about immigration — stressing a need to secure the border, enforce the laws and put a priority on American wages in discussing legal immigration — has been consistent.