SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) moved quickly Wednesday to apologize for suggesting that California's border with Mexico should be closed in an effort to solve the nation's illegal immigration problem.
Schwarzenegger said he misspoke in comments to newspaper editors and publishers Tuesday, intending to say the border should be secured. The governor blamed the error on his sometimes flawed use of English — his second language.
"Yesterday was a total screw-up in the words I used," the governor said at a press conference. "Because instead of closing, I meant securing. I think maybe my English, I need to go back to school and study a little bit."
The contrition seemed to quell the issue at the Capitol. Hispanic lawmakers — many of whom are also rival Democrats — said they accepted his apology.
"I don't think the governor identifies himself with that kind of rhetoric," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (search), D-Los Angeles. "I don't know why he said it but I'm very pleased he has totally removed himself from those folks who espouse that kind of hatred."
Nunez's office, however, pointed out that Schwarzenegger said something very similar in a 2003 interview with Fox TV host Bill O'Reilly.
Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman, said it was unfortunate Nunez was promoting a "story that has no merit."
She pointed out that Nunez told a reporter only Tuesday that he too may have misspoken about holding up negotiations this summer on the state budget because of a disagreement with the governor on workers' compensation reform.
On Tuesday, before the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America (search) in San Francisco, Schwarzenegger said it was "unfair to have all those people coming across, have the borders open the way it is, and have this kind of lax situation."
The Republican governor backed away from those statements Wednesday, saying that while securing the border is an important issue — he does not want to close it.
"We have a terrific relationship with Mexico," Schwarzenegger said. "I filmed four movies in Mexico, I love to go on vacation to Mexico. We have a great trade agreement with Mexico."
Thompson said that by securing the border, the governor means that existing immigration laws should be better enforced, that there should be better security that people and goods are crossing back and forth properly.