Some White House Republican hopefuls want curbs on legal immigration

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Scott Walker, Anti-Immigrant Populist?

Republican 2016 presidential hopefuls Scott Walker and Rick Santorum are suggesting a potentially controversial way to boost Americans' job prospects: admit fewer legal immigrants into the United States.

The notion, absent from presidential politics for at least 20 years, could help them tap into the frustrations of working-class voters who have struggled with stagnant wages and reduced job opportunities since the economic crisis of 2007-2009.

It could also complicate prospects for a comprehensive fix to the nation's outdated immigration system and tar the Republican Party as anti-immigrant at a time when it needs to broaden its support base of Hispanics and Asians, two of the biggest groups of legal immigrants in the United States.

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Some White House Republican hopefuls want curbs on legal immigration
Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a town hall meeting, Friday, July 17, 2015, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WAUKESHA, WI - JULY 13: Workers put up a sign outside of the Waukesha County Expo Center before Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announces that he will seek the Republican nomination for president on July 13, 2015 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Walker is the 15th candidate to formally announce intentions to seek the Republican nomination. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker waves to supporters after announcing that he is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination at the Waukesha County Expo Center, Monday, July 13, 2015, in Waukesha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 02: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and possible Republican presidential candidate speaks during the Rick Scott's Economic Growth Summit held at the Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center on June 2, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Many of the leading Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to speak during the event. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 02: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and possible Republican presidential candidate speaks during the Rick Scott's Economic Growth Summit held at the Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center on June 2, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Many of the leading Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to speak during the event. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21: Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference May 21, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. About a dozen possible presidential candidates will join the conference and lobby for supports from Republican voters. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WEST DES MOINES, IA - MAY 16: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (L) and his wife Tonette listen to a speaker at Dallas County Recorder Chad Airhart's annual Blue Jean Bash on May 16, 2015 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Several Republican presidential hopefuls are attending events in the state this weekend. Hillary Clinton, who hopes to become the Democrats choice, is expected in Iowa for events on Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker walks off stage after speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on February 26, 2015. (Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
CONCORD, NH - MARCH 14: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during a grassroots training and rally event at Concord High School March 14, 2015 in Concord, New Hampshire. Governor Walker is on a two day trip to New Hampshire as he eyes a run for president. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum January 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the week Walker announced the formation of 'Our American Revival', a new committee designed to explore the option of a presidential bid in 2016. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker waits backstage before speaking at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WEST ALLIS, WI - NOVEMBER 4: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters at his election night party November 4, 2014 in West Allis, Wisconsin. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Mary Burke. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the winter meeting of the free market Club for Growth winter economic conference at the Breakers Hotel Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at a National Religious Broadcasters meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Walker and fellow potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spoke at the conference. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker shakes hands after speaking at his campaign party, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in West Allis, Wis. Walker defeated Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. The fact is, what the polls do show is that most Americans aren’t yet paying enough attention to make the horse race results worth much at all. An Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted at the end of January. It found that two-thirds of Americans were unfamiliar with two Republicans who have attracted lots of attention for their performance in polls this year, Walker and conservative darling Ben Carson. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE - In a Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker gives a thumbs up as he speaks at his campaign party, in West Allis, Wis. Less than two years ago, party leaders solemnly declared after an exhaustive study that the GOP "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform." It was critical for the party's survival, they said, to address an issue that was paramount to the nation's surging Hispanic population. But as President Obama issued a sweeping immigration order last week, some of the Republican Party's most prominent governors — likely presidential candidates among them — described immigration reform as little more than an afterthought. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
In this Sept. 23, 2014 photo is Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker at a campaign stop in Racine, Wis. Walker faces Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke Nov. 4 election. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Republican party of Wisconsin State Convention Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker arrives at the 2014 TIME 100 Gala held at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a rally for South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy for a second term at the Bi-Lo Center, Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, in Greenville, S.C. Supporting Gov. Haley were Perry, Bobby Jindal-La. and Scott Walker-Wis. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)
FILE - In this June 28, 2013 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks in his Capitol office in Madison, Wis. On Friday, July 5, 2013, Walker signed a contentious Republican bill that would require women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of the fetus before the procedure and prohibit doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents have vowed to sue to stop the law. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gestures as he speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Green Packers all time leading receiver, Donald Driver, right, shares a laugh with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker during Drivers retirement ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The governor had proclaimed the day Donald Driver day. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, second from right, walks up to the podium for a test in the Tampa Bay Times Forum at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
RNC chairman Reince Priebus , left, Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., center, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., watch Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speak during a campaign stop at Monterey Mills on Monday, June 18, 2012 in Janesville, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker kisses his wife Tonette at his victory party Tuesday, June 5, 2012, in Waukesha, Wis. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in a special recall election. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to employees of Total Administrative Services Corp., on Monday, May 21, 2012, in Madison, Wis. Walker, who faces a recall election in two weeks, is up in the polls and appears to have the momentum in the race. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is surrounded by the news media after speaking to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, April 17, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. Ever since his fight to pass an anti-union bill last year, Walker has kept up a jet-setting schedule that's more akin to a candidate running for president than governor. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard who are preparing to deploy to Kosovo later this year, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, in Milwaukee, Walker said Friday that he didn’t know anything more about an FBI raid on the home of one of his former top aids Wednesday beyond what he has seen reported in the press. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde)
CodePink demonstrators stand behind Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., left, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 14, 2011, prior to Walker testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the problems with balancing state budgets in a tough economy. Sensenbrenner introduced Walker to the committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) answers questions from the media after reading to Anna Greenman's third grade class at Hope Christian school Prima in Milwaukee, Thursday, March 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs a bill at a ceremonial event Friday, March 11, 2011, in Madison, Wis. At right is Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to the media at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Opponents to the governor's proposal to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers are in their ninth day of protests at the Capitol. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker acknowledges someone in the crowd as he speaks at an inauguration ceremony in the rotunda of the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 3, 2011, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Governor-elect Scott Walker speaks to reporters outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., following meetings on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 with state budget officials. Walker, a Republican, said he is working with state lawmakers on proposals to stimulate the state’s economy that can be taken up immediately in January. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)
Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker give a wink and thumbs us as he declares victory, Tuesday, Sept, 14. 2010, in Milwaukee. Walker will face Democrat Tom Barrett in the Nov. 2 general election. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
In this photo made May 28, 2010, Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker speaks at a Memorial Day service at St. John's Academy in Delafield, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin Governor candidates Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker waits before his final debate against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett Friday, Oct. 29, 2010, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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"This hurts our efforts. I think people need to tone down the rhetoric," said Hugo Chavez-Rey, chairman of a Hispanic Republican group in the battleground state of Colorado.

Since 1989, the United States has been letting in about 1 million new immigrants per year, a level comparable to the last great wave of European immigration at the turn of the 20th Century. The Census Bureau estimates there are now 43.3 million foreign-born residents in the United States and within 10 years immigrants will account for 15 percent of the population, a record high. (Graphic: reut.rs/1ef8E8Y)

Roughly 2 in 5 Americans think those levels are too high, according to polling by Gallup.

Many Republican presidential candidates are vocal champions of legal immigration. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the front runner in the Republican race, says more legal immigrants are needed to boost economic growth while South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says they can help care for an aging population.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has said higher levels of legal immigration would lead to lower levels of illegal immigration, while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said "let's get as many people here as want to come" last month. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz frequently invoke their Cuban-immigrant parents in stump speeches, and both have called for expanding guest-worker programs.

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Rick Santorum
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Some White House Republican hopefuls want curbs on legal immigration
DES MOINES, IA - MAY 16: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks to guests gathered for the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center on May 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa gave several Republican presidential hopefuls an opportunity to strengthen their support among Iowa Republicans ahead of the 2016 Iowa caucus. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MAY 14: Former U.S. Senator and GOP Presidental hopeful Rick Santorum speaks at the RNC Luncheon during the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at The Phoenician May 14, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Jan. 22, 2015, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum poses for photographs during the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington. Santorum was undoubtedly an underdog the last time around in Iowa, and even he admits most voters probably don’t remember how he rallied to kick off the 2012 presidential election with a win in the state’s lead-off caucus Four years later, he’s again an underdog. And that suits him just fine. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 10: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. The annual NRA meeting and exhibit runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 03: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas. More than 70,000 peope are expected to attend the NRA's 3-day annual meeting that features nearly 550 exhibitors, gun trade show and a political rally. The Show runs from May 3-5. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum signs an autograph before speaking at the Iowa Faith & Freedom 15th Annual Spring Kick Off, in Waukee, Iowa, Saturday, April 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
MT PLEASANT, SC - JANUARY 19: Republican presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) holds an outdoor press conference with by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on January 19, 2012 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. According to certified results released on January 19, by the Iowa Republican Party, Santorum won the January 3, Iowa Republican presidential caucuses by 34 votes. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 06: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (C) arrives for a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' campaign town hall meeting in the parking lot of the Belmont Hall restaurant January 6, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Santorum moved the meeting into the parking lot after the local fire marshal said there were too many people inside the restaurant and it was unsafe. After coming in second place by only eight votes behind fellow candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum is riding that momentum into next week's New Hampshire GOP primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Surrounded by his family Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announces he is suspending his candidacy in Gettysburg, Pa., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, forum moderator Frank Luntz, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry stand on stage before the Thanksgiving Family Forum sponsored by The Family Leader, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Former GOP presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (L) voices his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities during a news conference with his wife Karen Santorum (3rd L) and his daughters, Isabella and Sarah, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. In 2008 the Santorum's eighth child, Isabella, was born and diagnosed with Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18), a serious genetic disorder, with only a 10% chance of survival past one year old. Following the second hospitalization of Isabella in a few months, Santorum officially suspended his campaign for the presidency in June of 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Karen Santorum (L), wife of former GOP presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), cradles her daughter, Isabella, while participating in a news conference opposing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. In 2008 the Santorum's eighth child, Isabella, was born and diagnosed with Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18), a serious genetic disorder, with only a 10% chance of survival past one year old. Following the second hospitalization of Isabella in a few months, Santorum officially suspended his campaign for the presidency in June of 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Former GOP presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (L) adjusts his daughter Isabella's hat during a news conference where he voiced his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with his wife Karen Santorum at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. In 2008 the Santorum's eighth child, Isabella, was born and diagnosed with Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18), a serious genetic disorder, with only a 10% chance of survival past one year old. Following the second hospitalization of Isabella in a few months, Santorum officially suspended his campaign for the presidency in June of 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
LA CROSSE, WI - MARCH 28: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and his daughter Elizabeth watch a fellow bowlers while bowling at South Lanes Bowling and Pizza during a campaign stop on March 28, 2012 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Wisconsin residents will go to the polls on April 3 to vote for their choice for the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 15: Presidenial candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (L) and daughter Sara Marie, 14, sit at Toro Salado restaurant March 15, 2012 in in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Santorum is on the second day of two-day campaign trip to where there are 23 GOP delegates up for grabs for the republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 15: (L to R) Peter, 12, Daniel, 16, and Sara Marie, 14, wait for their father, presidenial candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), to finish talking to reporters at theToro Salado restaurant March 15, 2012 in in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Santorum is on the second day of two-day campaign trip to where there are 23 GOP delegates up for grabs for the republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - FEBRUARY 28: Rick Santorum addresses supporters as his wife Karen (L) and daughter Elizabeth Santorum (R) look on at a primary night gathering on February 28, 2012 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArizonVoters in Michigan and Arizona went to the polls today to pick their choice for the Republican presidential nominee. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won both contests. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and his family wait for the start of a live television interview after speaking at a South Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition Event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, January 16, 2012. South Carolina will hold its Republican primary on January 21, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 12: A family listens to Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum during a town hall event on January 12, 2012 in Charleston, South Carolina. Voters in South Carolina will head to the polls on January 21 to vote in the primary election for the Republican presidential candidate. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
AMHERST, NH - JANUARY 07: Four-year-old Audrey Stecchi of Merrimack, New Hampshire, holds a sign as she waits for the arrival of Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, with her family outside Homestead Grocery & Deli January 7, 2012 in Amherst, New Hampshire. The meet-and-greet event was moved outside after too many people had showed up and exceeded the limit of the fire regulations. Santorum continued to campaign in New Hampshire for the upcoming primary election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
HOLLIS, NH - JANUARY 07: A supporter of Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum wears a republican party sweatshirt during a Faith, Family and Freedom town hall meeting at the Lawrence Barn on January 7, 2012 in Hollis, New Hampshire. With less than one week before the New Hampshire primary, Rick Santorum continues to campaign in New Hampshire. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - JANUARY 09: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' town hall at the Rivier College football field January 9, 2012 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Republican candidates have one final day of campaigning before New Hampshire holds its first in the nation primary tomorrow. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
KEENE, NH - JANUARY 06: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a town hall meeting on 'Faith, Family and Freedom' January 6, 2012 in Keene, New Hampshire. Santorum continued to campaign in New Hampshire for Tuesday's primary election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
KEENE, NH - JANUARY 06: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum pauses as he speaks during a town hall meeting on 'Faith, Family and Freedom' January 6, 2012 in Keene, New Hampshire. Santorum continued to campaign in New Hampshire for the upcoming primary election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
KEENE, NH - JANUARY 06: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a town hall meeting on 'Faith, Family and Freedom' January 6, 2012 in Keene, New Hampshire. Santorum continued to campaign in New Hampshire for the upcoming primary election. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NORTHFIELD, NH - JANUARY 05: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Sepia aesthetic attained thru through Photoshop processing) Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum arrives at a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' Town Hall at Merrimack Valley Railroad on January 5, 2012 in Northfield, New Hampshire. Fresh off of a second place finish at the Iowa cuacus, Rick Santorum is trying to carry his momentum as he campaigns a week ahead of the New Hampshire primary. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
NORTHFIELD, NH - JANUARY 05: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Sepia aesthetic attained thru through Photoshop processing) Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum speaks during a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' Town Hall at Merrimack Valley Railroad on January 5, 2012 in Northfield, New Hampshire. Fresh off of a second place finish at the Iowa cuacus, Rick Santorum is trying to carry his momentum as he campaigns a week ahead of the New Hampshire primary. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 31: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Leaders of the Republican Party spoke at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference which hosted 1,500 delegates from across the country. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 31: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Leaders of the Republican Party spoke at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference which hosted 1,500 delegates from across the country. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 15: Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center at National Harbor, Md., on Friday, March 15, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
MT PLEASANT, SC - JANUARY 19: Republican presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (C) arrives for a press conference on January 19, 2012 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. According to certified results released on January 19, by the Iowa Republican Party, Santorum won the January 3, Iowa Republican presidential caucuses by 34 votes. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NORTHFIELD, NH - JANUARY 05: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum meets voters during a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' Town Hall at Merrimack Valley Railroad on January 5, 2012 in Northfield, New Hampshire. Fresh off of a second place finish at the Iowa cuacus, Rick Santorum is trying to carry his momentum as he campaigns a week ahead of the New Hampshire primary. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 06: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum arrives for a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' campaign town hall meeting in the parking lot of the Belmont Hall restaurant January 6, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Santorum moved the meeting into the parking lot after the local fire marshal said there were too many people inside the restaurant and it was unsafe. After coming in second place by only eight votes behind fellow candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum is riding that momentum into next week's New Hampshire GOP primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BEDFORD, NH - JANUARY 06: Campaign signs for Republican presidential candidates former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney line a road January 6, 2012 in Bedford, New Hampshire. After coming in second place by only eight votes behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum trying tio riding that momentum into next week's New Hampshire GOP primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 06: University of New Hampshire student Evan West holds up a sign while demonstrating against Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum outside the Belmont Hall restaurant January 6, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. West, who said he was not gay, said, 'The issue is serious, the sign is not.' After coming in second place by only eight votes behind fellow candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum is riding that momentum into next week's New Hampshire GOP primary. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NORTHFIELD, NH - JANUARY 05: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum speaks during a 'Faith, Family and Freedom' Town Hall at Merrimack Valley Railroad on January 5, 2012 in Northfield, New Hampshire. Fresh off of a second place finish at the Iowa cuacus, Rick Santorum is trying to carry his momentum as he campaigns a week ahead of the New Hampshire primary. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
AMES, IA - AUGUST 13: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) greets voters outside the Hilton Coliseum, where Iowans will vote in the Iowa Straw Poll at Iowa State University August 13, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. Nine GOP presidential candidates are competing for votes in the straw poll, an important step for gaining momentum in a crowded field of hopefuls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WAUKEE, IA - MARCH 07: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Event, Monday March 7, 2011 in Waukee, Iowa. Five Republicans considering a run for president in 2012 presented themselves to hundreds of activists at the event. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 07: SENATE GOP LEADERS--Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Senate Energy Chairman Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, talk to the media in the Ohio Clock Corridor after the GOP policy luncheon. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01: CORPORATE TAXATION REVISION--Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking Democrat Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., huddle before the Senate Finance Committee markup of legislation that would overhaul the corporate tax code to meet World Trade Organization (WTO) objections to some provisions in current tax law that the WTO views as an illegal subsidy. According to a committee spokesperson, they were discussing how to deal with the corporate-owned life insurance issue. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 08: ECONOMIC GROWTH PLAN--Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., consult before the markup of draft legislation that would implement the administration's proposed economic growth plan. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 23: TRADE BILL--Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., obscured, and Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, during a news conference celebrating the imminent passage of the trade bill in the Senate. On the table are products representing products that they say will be helped by the bill. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 04: GOP UNITY ON BBA -- Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., walk down Senate steps with other Repuiblicans in a show of unity on the Balanced Budget Amendment. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 15: CAMPAIGN FINANCE--Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., during a news conference on their campaign finance bill. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is seen during a news conference at the 30th Street Post Office in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006. Santorum will face Democratic challenger Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey in this falls midterm elections. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., appears before supporters in Pittsburgh to concede to Democrat Bob Casey Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and his brother Dan Santorum, left, make calls to get out the vote from his campaign headquarters in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. Santorum is being challenged by Democrat Bob Casey. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., talks with a campaign volunteer outside the Republican headquarters in downtown Meadville, Pa., Monday, Nov. 6, 2006.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., right, speaks to supporters at a rally in Lancaster, Pa., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006. Standing left is Santorum's wife Karen Santorum and their daughter Sarah. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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PROTECTING WORKERS

Few national politicians have called for limiting legal immigration since the 1990s, when Republican candidate Pat Buchanan warned that immigrants would erode the influence of white Americans.

That argument still appeals to voters like Colorado retiree Jan Herron who see the nation's increasing diversity as a threat to their way of life.

"California is gone because of the invasion," Herron said, referring to that state's growing Hispanic population. "The same thing is happening here in Colorado."

Advocates of limiting immigration disavow these sentiments and say they bear no will toward immigrants. The best reason to limit immigration, they say, is to give U.S. workers more bargaining power. Blacks, Hispanics and recent immigrants in particular are vulnerable to competition from new arrivals who are willing to do menial work for lower wages, they say.

"We don't have enough jobs for our lower-skilled workers now. What sense does it make to bring in millions more?" Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican, wrote in the Washington Post in April.

Sessions had been one of the few public officials calling for a decrease in immigration levels until this spring, when Walker said the United States should consider restricting immigration levels when the economy is struggling and raise them when it is booming.

Walker has yet to release a formal immigration plan. His campaign declined to elaborate on his position or make him available for an interview.

But advocates of limited immigration are thrilled that presidential candidates are taking up their cause.

"Walker's the one who really put this on the map," said Roy Beck, executive director at NumbersUSA, a group that wants to scale back legal immigration. "He's said it so many times now I don't see how he could possibly back out of it."

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, also wants to reduce immigration by 25 percent as part of a broader agenda to improve the economic prospects of blue-collar workers.

"I know this will be termed somehow as anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant, but I would just say that immigration policies should be policies that serve the interest of the American public," he said at a news conference last month.

HELPING DEMOCRATS

Economists have generally found that immigration has little to no effect on wages over the long term. Some argue that immigration has boosted overall wages because immigrants create more demand for goods and services and they generally do not directly compete with U.S.-born workers for the same jobs.

The effect on the political landscape is more clear cut.

Immigrants favor Democratic candidates and liberal policies by a wide margin, surveys show, and they have moved formerly competitive states like Illinois firmly into the Democratic column and could turn Republican strongholds like Georgia and Texas into battlegrounds in the years to come, according to University of Maryland political science professor James Gimpel.

Thus it's a matter of smart politics for Republicans to stem the tide, immigration skeptics say.

"Small-government conservatism can't survive in the face of continued high levels of immigration," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a pro-restriction group.

The idea of limiting legal immigration has less support among the public than it did two decades ago, when Gallup found that 65 percent thought immigration levels were too high. That figure now stands at 41 percent.

The idea is most popular among working-class voters who feel pessimistic about theeconomy, Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said. Candidates like Walker can win their support by criticizing companies that hire cheap immigrant labor rather than offering better pay to U.S. workers, she said.

Other pollsters have found less support for this idea when they clarify they are talking about legal immigrants.

A June poll by ImmigrationWorks USA, a pro-immigration business group, found that only 13 percent thought that legal immigrants talk jobs away from American workers, while twice that percentage thought they take jobs Americans don't want.

Others warn the discussion could further turn off voters who already suspect the Republican Party is hostile to immigrants.

"How are we going to reach out to more people and be more inclusive?" said Johnny Cabazos, a Colorado office worker and aspiring Republican politician. "I just don't think that helps."

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, editing by Ross Colvin)

U.S. Immigration Statistics - General Overview | InsideGov

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