MILWAUKEE — Donald Trump’s immigration policy is based on solid principles but the country probably doesn’t need a 1,700-mile wall along its southern border, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Thursday.

The Oshkosh Republican told reporters during a brief question-and-answer period following a forum on opiod addiction at Milwaukee Area Technical College that Trump’s immigration policy is based on the United States’ best interest.

“Donald Trump said our legal immigration system ought to be based on what is in the best interest of America, the American people, American workers,” Johnson said. “That’s a pretty good principle in terms of what ought to drive our legal immigration process.”

Asked if he supports deportation on the scale Trump has called for, Johnson said the country “certainly” needs to deport criminals.

“We’ve got to prioritize that and that’s what he (Trump) was talking about last night,” the senator said.

Trump vowed Wednesday to remove millions of people living in the country illegally if he becomes president and called for restricting legal immigration, saying people who live in the country illegally hurt American workers by depressing wages. He also is still calling for a physical wall along the nation’s southern border.

Securing the border has become a key Republican talking point as the campaign season wears on. Johnson, chairman of the Senate’s homeland security committee, has made it one of his campaign planks. He repeatedly called for securing the border during Thursday’s forum, saying that’s one of the first steps toward controlling the drug trade and protecting Americans from spreading diseases and terrorists.

Asked if he thought Trump’s wall would secure the border, he said, “We need a better fence in certain areas. I don’t think we need a 1,700-mile wall.”

He suggested using more technology and placing more border patrol agents on the ground. He also said whoever is president must commit to securing the border.

Johnson is locked in a tight re-election battle with Democrat Russ Feingold. Johnson ousted Feingold from the Senate in 2010, ending Feingold’s 18-year tenure in Washington.

A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed their race about even. Despite both candidates’ experience in the Senate, 32 percent of respondents said they didn’t know enough about Johnson to make a decision, and 25 percent said they didn’t know enough about Feingold to make a decision.

Feingold campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said in an email that Johnson has embraced Trump’s “divisive and reckless principles” despite the harm the immigration plan would do to Wisconsin’s farmers, small businesses and families.

“His embrace of Trump’s immigration plan is just another chapter in the sad saga that is the Ronald and Donald show,” Tyler wrote.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, also attended the opiod forum. Asked afterward whether he thought Trump’s immigration plan would help Republicans attract Hispanics’ votes, he said he wasn’t going “to stand up for Donald Trump’s plan.”

“What I’m going to stand up for is a plan that actually works for this country, which is an immigration system that works and that is border security,” Gardner said. “That’s what we’re talking about here.”


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he supports the principles behind Donald Trump’s immigration policy but he doesn’t believe the country needs a wall along the entire southern border.

The Oshkosh Republican told reporters following a forum in Milwaukee that Trump’s immigration policy is based on what’s best for Americans and that’s a good principle to drive the country’s immigration process.

He stressed that the federal government must secure the border to slow the drug trade and stop diseases from spreading into the United States, one of his key campaign planks. He said that might mean a “better fence” in some areas but he doesn’t believe the country needs a 1,700-mile wall.

Johnson is locked in a fierce re-election fight with Democrat Russ Feingold.