Wisconsin's Walker asks Trump for more control over refugees

AP News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2016 4:10 PM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker asked President-elect Donald Trump in a letter delivered Tuesday to give his state more authority in determining how many refugees can come from countries with ties to terrorism.

Walker also asked for help to allow the state to proceed with drug testing for some food stamp recipients and legalize the hunting of gray wolves.

The requests are among several that Walker, a Republican who challenged Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, makes in the letter. Walker offered few details on what he wanted Trump to do. It also wasn't immediately clear how quickly Trump could move to address his concerns given that some of what Walker wants has been blocked in court or would require law changes.

Walker is drawing attention to issues that play well with conservatives and on which he and President Barack Obama's administration disagree. Walker told The Associated Press that he was "very optimistic" Trump would act quickly on his requests after taking office next month.

Trump's spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment Tuesday. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, urged Trump to work with the governor on what he called "common sense reforms to increase flexibility and return authority to Wisconsin."

On the refugee issue, Walker said governors and states should "have a broader role in determining how many refugees and from which countries" are admitted "until we are comfortable with the vetting process that is being utilized to screen these individuals."

"We have no idea how many people may have ties to the Islamic State or to other forms of radical Islamic terrorism or jihadist groups, and I think it's a legitimate public safety concern," Walker said in the interview.

Wisconsin has been accepting refugee resettlements since 1974. Since 2000, more than 16,000 refugees have been resettled in the state from 50 different countries, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

One of the leading refugee resettlement agencies operating in the state is Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. It plans to relocate 510 refugees in the state next year, said Mary Flynn, the group's refugee resettlement manager.

Flynn said she is confident in the security screening process that's already in place.

"I also see details in my daily work that I know these security screenings are ongoing and continuous until the person arrives in the United States," she said. And in some cases the monitoring continues after the person is relocated, Flynn said.

Flynn said she wanted to review Walker's letter to Trump before commenting on it in detail.

Walker is also hoping a Trump administration will be more open to drug testing for childless adults who receive food stamps.

Walker sued Obama's administration to permit such drug testing after the Agriculture Department said federal law prohibits such screening. There's also been a Republican push in Congress to allow for it.

Walker also wants to charge higher premiums for childless adults earning less than the federal poverty level of $11,880 a year if they "purposefully increase their health risks," without saying what that means.

The hunting of gray wolves in Wisconsin is a hot issue, particularly in more rural northern parts of the state. Wolf hunting is not allowed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota under a 2014 federal judge's ruling that threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list.

Animal protection groups contend wolves must remain protected, but advocates for hunting them say they are increasing in number, becoming more aggressive and are moving south. Walker argues in the letter that Wisconsin successfully managed the wolf population prior to the court ruling and should be allowed to do so again.

Walker said he has spoken several times with Vice President-elect Mike Pence about these requests. Walker has a close relationship with Pence, the governor of Indiana and helped him prepare for his vice presidential debate earlier this year.

Pence was among dozens of governors from mostly GOP states who attempted to block Syrian refugees following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, saying there were questions about the federal government's refugee screening process. A federal appeals court blocked Pence's attempt to prevent social service agencies from helping resettle immigrants from certain countries in Indiana. A three-judge panel in October called it "nightmare speculation" that refugees might commit acts of terror.

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AP writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this story.

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