Immigration reform and border security were major topics of discussion in the one-on-one conversation between U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and WKOW-TV reporter Emilee Fannon at the Cap Times Idea Fest on Saturday.
Johnson, the Oshkosh Republican who won re-election to the Senate in 2016 and currently stands as the sole Republican in Wisconsin holding statewide elected office, was asked to offer his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s use of military funds to build additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, which recently resulted in a diversion of funds away from Madison’s Truax Field.
“All of a sudden President Trump came in and he made this a big issue, and all of a sudden it became a divisive issue,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate, but we do need better barriers.”
He then qualified the remark by stating his belief that the wall will not fix the current problem of people exploiting what he perceives as “our really lax immigration laws.”
When asked to clarify his opinion on the Truax Field situation, Johnson said “that money will be easily refunded through the appropriation process,” and that the funds will be “earmarked and Congress will just backfill that money in 2020’s appropriation bill.”
“Truax Field will get the funds,” he said.
In discussing his future legislation goals, Johnson said he is going to “continue to pursue immigration reform.” In the near-term, he said he would like to see actions similar to measures taken in 2005 when a surge of Brazilians began illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. He referenced a process of expedited removal called “Operation Texas Hold ‘Em” that he said focused on the undocumented Brazilian immigrants, adjudicated their cases and sent them back to Brazil on a “first-in, first-out” basis.
In the longer-term, he detailed more comprehensive legislation goals of simplifying the visa system, which he called “a mess.” He pointed out that this goal is a key component introduced by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s recent immigration proposal plan.
While voicing approval for the plan in how it aims to “transition the legal immigration system from one of primarily family-reunification to people coming into our country to contribute to our economy,” Johnson also made a few distinctions between his own views and Kushner’s on immigration.
“The big focus of [Kushner’s] visa system is high-skill workers,” said Johnson. “I want people of all skills. I want to be able to design our legal immigration system to fit our economy, no matter what the skill.”
Fannon also brought up Trump’s trade war with China, another issue directly affecting Wisconsinites, and asked Johnson about the effect of tariffs on farmers.
“He knows full-well that I’m not a real supporter of the strategy that he’s undertaken,” Johnson said. “What we should be doing is focusing on the primary problem as China and we should get the rest of the world combined, allied, toward making China comply.”
“Farmers’ patience is running thin,” he added. “But they really have given this administration a fair amount of slack in terms of trying to bring China into compliance.”
Johnson was also asked about the future of his political career and if he plans to run for re-election in 2022.
“Reality changes,” said Johnson. “When I said second and final, I meant it, and that’s still my preference. I think twelve years is more than enough, but I really felt that the House of Representatives would be our firewall against some of the more extreme leftist proposals. I’ll re-evaluate after 2020.”