With a week to go before the Nov. 6 election, President Donald Trump’s plan to end automatic citizenship for some U.S.-born babies jumped to the forefront of Wisconsin’s top-of-the-ticket races.
A week after making immigration issues a focus of his campaign for re-election, Gov. Scott Walker refused to say Tuesday whether he agreed with Trump’s plan as his Democratic opponent Tony Evers quickly denounced the idea.
Before it was over, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and her Republican opponent Leah Vukmir also weighed in.
Ryan said Trump couldn’t do what he wanted to do because birthright citizenship is provided through the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Ryan, in comments made during an appearance on a Kentucky radio station, said Trump couldn’t end birthright citizenship with an executive order.
“You know as a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process,” Ryan said.
Ryan is not running for re-election. Bryan Steil, the Republican seeking his seat, agreed with Ryan.
“As a conservative, I believe we must follow the plain text of the Constitution,” Steil said in a statement. “The 14th amendment is clear regarding citizenship. I am focused on real solutions to address immigration and the first step is securing the border.”
Steil’s Democratic opponent, Randy Bryce, blasted Trump’s idea, calling it “shameful.”
At a news conference Tuesday to announce the endorsement of the Milwaukee Police Association, Walker demurred when asked about the president’s idea.
“It’s a federal issue—I have no authority over that whatsoever,” the governor said.
“I have my hands full focusing on the state of Wisconsin.”
Evers and his running mate, Mandela Barnes, declared their opposition to the proposal.
“Gov. Walker’s silence is an endorsement of this proposal, just like when Trump called himself a nationalist,” Barnes said, referring to Trump’s recent declarations that he considers himself a “nationalist” and not a “globalist.”
When he ran for president in 2015, Walker left open the possibility he would support ending birthright citizenship. But he said he wouldn’t address the issue now.
“If I was running for federal office again, I would have thoughts on it,” he said. “But I am running for state office. To me, I am focused on the state.”
In an interview with “Axios on HBO” released Tuesday, Trump said he would seek to end birthright citizenship for the children of noncitizens with an executive order.
Trump is floating the idea a week before a midterm election that has Republicans bracing for what could be a “blue wave” of Democratic turnout.
Such an order to remove the constitutional right would inevitably result in a court fight.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Vukmir praised Trump and expressed openness to ending birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants, but she did not address the details of Trump’s proposal head on.
“As the daughter of Greek immigrants, I support birthright citizenship for individuals that are legally in our country, but illegal immigrants are taking advantage of America’s generosity, and I applaud President Trump’s courageous leadership to fix our immigration crisis, which Senator Baldwin has failed to fix and has resulted in free education and health care benefits for illegal immigrants,” Vukmir said in a statement.
In a statement, Baldwin said: “I disagree with the president, and I think what we really need to do is fix our broken immigration system and strengthen our border through comprehensive immigration reform.”
Baldwin’s colleague in the Senate from Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, said Tuesday that the question of birthright citizenship is “a very legitimate debate” that he welcomes.
Johnson told WTMJ Radio of Milwaukee that only about 30 countries grant birthright citizenship, and that a number of major countries have repealed it “because it doesn’t make sense.”
“It made sense back in the 1800s, but nowadays, it probably doesn’t,” Johnson said. He called it “another incentive, it’s another reward” for immigrants to enter the United States illegally and have a child who is automatically a U.S. citizen.
Walker, who appeared on stage with Trump and Vukmir last week, has weighed in on federal issues off and on since Trump’s election and often stays away from controversial issues like Trump’s stance on tariffs and his latest proposal.
Weeks before he dropped out of the presidential race in 2015 as Trump was surging, Walker said he would not seek to deport children born in the U.S. to parents who were not citizens but left open the idea of ending birthright citizenship.
“Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?” an MSNBC reporter asked in August 2015.
“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,” Walker said, referring to the Senate minority leader at the time.
“We should end birthright citizenship?” the reporter asked.
“Yeah,” Walker said, nodding. “To me, it’s about enforcing the law ...”
“We should deport children of immigrants who are not citizens,” the reporter responded.
“I didn’t say that. I said you need to enforce the law, which to me is focusing on E-Verify,” Walker said, referring to the internet-based federal system that employers use to check whether their employees are authorized to work in this country.
Days later, Walker told a CNBC interviewer that he had no stand on birthright citizenship.
“I’m not taking a position on it one way or the other,” said Walker, who separately told ABC at the time he was not seeking to change the Constitution to end birthright citizenship.
Evers and Walker, who are locked in a tight race with just seven days to go, have drawn clear lines in recent weeks on other immigration issues despite Walker’s refusal to weigh in on the latest matter.
Walker has released an ad criticizing Evers for his support of allowing so-called “Dreamers” who graduate from Wisconsin high schools to pay in-state tuition. The policy is aimed at helping those who are brought to the United States illegally when they are young.
The ad also hits Evers for backing allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for driver’s permits if they pass a test. The ad refers to the immigrants as “illegals,” a term that immigrant rights groups call offensive.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said if Trump issues an executive order, he will likely be taken to court. Gingrich, who spoke with reporters in a conference call to promote Vukmir’s campaign, said he did not think the president should act alone.
“I think this late in the campaign, with seven or eight days to go, this is too big an issue for the president to jump and try to actually do anything, so I think he’s expressing his opinion,” Gingrich said. “But I would hope that he would ask the Congress to hold hearings before he actually decided what path to take.”
Lee Bergquist, Bill Glauber and Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press was also used in this report.
When Tracy Burtis’ son died in 2017, people didn’t bring casseroles to her door, and only a few stopped to see if she was OK.
Her son Cody Burtis had died from an overdose.
When your child dies from an overdose, the condolences aren’t as plentiful as when you lose a child to cancer or an accident, she said.
Many people, Tracy said, believed her son died because of choices he made.
Cody died Jan. 14, 2017, at his grandfather’s house in South Beloit, Illinois. He was 30 years old.
The man who loved animals and working with his hands grew up in Beloit and attended Parker High School in Janesville, according to his obituary.
After her son died, Tracy searched the area for support groups that help people who have lost loved ones to addiction, but she had no luck. She said she swore that once she got back on her feet emotionally, she would start helping others.
In June, Tracy started Families Fighting Addiction, a nonprofit organization that provides support for those affected by addiction, she said.
The group started with weekly support groups in Beloit. Since its inception, it has added another weekly support group at Blackhawk Technical College and soon will start monthly educational events to teach people about addiction, how to cope with loss and how to help people seeking recovery, Tracy said.
Tracy expects to add more support groups based on demand.
“Addiction affects so many people in its path,” she said. “It is a very destructive path, and everybody it touches, it does something to them on the way out.”
On the last day of this year, on what would have been Cody’s 32nd birthday, Families Fighting Addiction will host a memorial service to honor those who have died from drug overdoses, Tracy said.
The memorial will include a candlelight vigil, speeches and a video presentation.
Months before Cody’s death, Tracy fell apart. She was exhausted. She didn’t know how to help her son.
“I fell apart just a few months before my son died,” she said. “I was no use to him whatsoever. I have to live with that for the rest of my life. I became numb. I don’t want anyone else to experience that.”
Tracy believes her son’s addiction started when he was 15 years old. He self-medicated with substances to get past his anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she said.
Later in life, Cody self-medicated with cocaine and heroin, feeding his addiction to avoid the pain of withdrawal, Tracy said.
It was difficult to watch her son suffer. She tried to find him help many times, but she said she was disappointed by the lack of resources in the area.
“It just makes me sick,” Tracy said.
There is no right answer for how to cope with losing a loved one to addiction, Tracy said.
The best advice she can give people is to find support and to put your own well-being first.
“I am not going to hide the fact this happened anymore,” Tracy said. “I remember the day I was embarrassed he had a drug problem.
“I am not anymore.”
With an estimated 20,000 vehicles traveling on Milton Avenue each day, Janesville officials know they can’t please everyone when it comes to stoplight timing.
Engineering Director Mike Payne routinely fields calls from residents upset about stoplights, and the complaints often refer to Milton Avenue. The grievances occasionally find their way into letters to the editor, and they used to pop up in The Gazette’s former Sound Off column.
When people call Payne, they typically grumble over green lights and ask if they can get a few extra seconds at a certain intersection.
The solution isn’t so simple.
Adding a few seconds of green light at one intersection, as many people suggest, would throw off the timing for the entire six-stoplight “corridor,” said traffic management supervisor Matt Gosline.
Milton Avenue from Lodge Drive to Mount Zion Avenue is one of three corridors in the city, along with portions of Centerway and Center Avenue. The corridors are programmed based on traffic counts and other data gathered by computerized signals, and they change timing depending on the time of day, he said.
Milton Avenue’s corridor normally extends to Morse Street, but that section is currently under state Department of Transportation control until the Interstate 90/39 project is finished.
The city coordinates its southbound lights to be in sync and green in the morning when people are coming into town for work. In the evening, synchronized green light privileges flip to northbound traffic as people return home, Gosline said.
Both directions can’t be in sync at the same time—a pattern pushing green lights one way would lead to random red lights in the other.
Midday traffic has mostly neutralized timing for both sides of the road. After 8 p.m. when traffic thins, the stoplights go into “free dial” and are timed based on the computerized signals that sense where vehicles are.
A Gazette reporter driving Milton Avenue around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday (adhering strictly to the speed limit, of course) found the city’s neutral midday timing to be true. This reporter encountered roughly an equal number of red and green lights while driving both northbound and southbound.
Four hours later, rush-hour timing should have called for smooth sailing north out of the city and no clear pattern driving south. But this reporter got stuck at four of the six lights heading north and only one returning south to The Gazette offices.
Payne said exceptions and weird stories do occur. And this reporter’s drive was only one test at two random times on a single day.
Milton Avenue’s stoplights were last re-evaluated in 2016 when the road was resurfaced. The city doesn’t regularly reconsider stoplight timing because of how complicated the mathematical timing calculations can be.
Tweaking anything would cause major changes, Payne said.
“We’re trying to maximize the efficiency for the highest amount of cars,” he said. “We can’t keep everybody happy, so we’re going to try to keep as many people happy as we can.”
As far as keeping everybody happy, there is at least one exception: The city does not time stoplights to please weekend cruisers of the Milton Avenue circuit.
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