Schwarzenegger, facing re-election, shifts warily on immigration

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed a federal plan to build a border fence between San Diego and Tijuana. This week, he said walling off hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the California-Mexico border is a strategy from the Stone Age.

It is not the only example of his complex and sometimes shifting views on illegal immigration, an issue that has become especially volatile in recent weeks with mass protests around the country by immigrants.

Schwarzenegger's complicated stand reflects both California's immigration politics and his own political vulnerability, as he seeks a second term with his approval ratings in the cellar.

Where California's governor stands on immigration is closely watched, both because the Austrian-born movie star is the best-known immigrant in U.S. politics, and because California has more illegal immigrants than any other state an estimated 2.4 million, more than the entire population of Nebraska.

In the 1990s, Schwarzenegger supported a ballot measure to deny illegal immigrants many basic services, including public schooling and non-emergency health care. Today, Schwarzenegger says the fight over illegal immigration is at the borders, "not in our schools and not in our hospitals."

Recently he stressed that the economy needs "a free flow of people" to thrive; he also embraces the Minuteman border-patrol movement, which warns of a nation "plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens."

The governor's "schizophrenic view" mirrors divisions among the voters and within Schwarzenegger's own party, said independent pollster Mark DiCamillo.

As a Republican candidate in a state where only about one in three voters is registered Republican, Schwarzenegger needs to lure Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic-leaning group and California's fastest-growing voting bloc, reports AP.

O.Ch.