Ron Johnson

Sen. Ron Johnson speaks Feb. 18, 2017 at a question and answer session at the Islamic Society of Northern Wisconsin mosque in Altoona.

At the same time President Donald Trump is sending thousands of American troops to the Mexican border to defend against caravans of Central American migrants and proposing to end birthright citizenship, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he agrees with the president that the nation’s immigration system needs to be fixed.

“It’s hard to convey how utterly broken the system is,” Johnson, R-Wis., told the Leader-Telegram editorial board on Wednesday.

Under the current system, some illegal immigrants are caught and released three or four times in the same day, said Johnson, who is traveling the state to stump for Republican candidates ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The caravans of migrants heading toward the southern U.S. border are just a symptom of the illegal immigration problem, as about 1,400 people are apprehended trying to enter the United States without proper documentation every day, said Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee.

He also criticized the lengthy appeals process that can drag out for up to five years and often ends with migrants just remaining in the country without documentation.

“We reward people for coming into this country illegally, and that’s what we’ve got to fix,” he said, acknowledging that the U.S. government shouldn’t be separating migrant children from their parents.

“If our goal is to stem the flow and turn this from an illegal process to a legal process that’s controlled so we know what the numbers are and can have proper assimilation … then we have to get control over that, and the only way to do that is to end those incentives and those rewards,” Johnson said.

That includes automatic citizenship for babies born in this country to undocumented immigrants, a practice that Trump said this week he might consider revoking through an executive order.

While Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that “obviously” the president couldn’t end the widely recognized constitutional right of birthright citizenship with an executive order, Johnson said he was open to discussing the idea.

“I know we can’t do it through an executive order without a court challenge, but I think it makes sense to have the discussion,” Johnson said, adding that he would leave the debate over whether such a move would violate the 14th Amendment in the hands of constitutional scholars.

Asked about calls for politicians to tone down their rhetoric in the wake of the recent mass shooting that killed 11 Jewish worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the spree of explosives sent to leading Democrats and Democratic Party supporters, Johnson decried the actions.

“These acts of violence are just that,” he said. “They’re acts of evil. That’s not a political act. That’s a violent act. That’s a crime.”

Johnson then went on to say he believes all of the political anger and organized protests are coming from the left and that conservatives generally are just passionate about preserving Americans’ liberty and freedom.

Emails sent Wednesday to state Democratic Party officials seeking comment were not returned.

Liberals get upset with some of the things Trump says, but that’s just “part of his shtick” and his sense of humor, Johnson said, adding that he believes the president calling the media the “enemy of the people” was out of line.

Regarding campaign finance reform, Johnson called the U.S. system “terrible” and said he supports full disclosure of donors to candidates but opposes disclosure of donors to advocacy groups for privacy reasons.

He does not believe limits should be placed on donations to candidates because he would consider that an infringement of donors’ free speech rights.

“Money is speech,” Johnson said. “It just is.”