July 3, 2013— -- Comprehensive immigration reform got another big GOP backer on Wednesday: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker told the Daily Herald Media editorial board he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a streamlined legal immigration system, explaining that those measures could help dairy farmers in his state who rely on migrant workers.
"If people want to come here and work hard and benefit, I don't care whether they come from Mexico or Ireland or Germany or Canada or South Africa or anywhere else," he told the paper. "I want them here."
Walker doesn't have a vote in Congress, but his endorsement is significant. He's became a well-respected figure among the GOP -- but reviled by the labor movement -- when he backed a 2011 law that stripped most state workers of their right to bargain collectively.
The governor's position puts him at odds with many House Republicans, who oppose granting a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The Senate's bipartisan bill does contain such a path. The governor did not specifically endorse the Senate bill, saying that he he favors an even more generous immigrant-worker policy than is provided under current law.
"Not only do they need to fix things for people already here, or find some way to do it, there's got to be a larger way to fix the system in the first place," he said.
During the fight, the governor rose to national prominence and his name has been floated as a potential presidential candidate in 2016. Walker joins others Wisconsin Republicans, such as Rep. Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who have called on the party to embrace immigration reform.
Walker's endorsement also marks a reversal of his previous stance on immigration. When he ran for office in 2010, he said he would sign an Arizona-style immigration enforcement bill into law. But he backed off that position late last year when he said such a measure would be a "huge distraction" for the state.