Rep. Paul Ryan is seeking to become a key player in the House effort to reform the immigration system. In Racine, WI, he laid out his plan that would include a "legalization" process for the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the US.
"Tentatively, October, we're going to vote on these bills," Ryan said. "We're going to vote on a border security bill, we're going to vote on an interior enforcement bill, like the workplace verification and the visa tracking. We're going to vote on a legal immigration bill for visas, for agricultural workers, for skilled workers."
Ryan also said, "We're going to vote on a bill to legalize people who are undocumented."
Under such a plan, those who are here illegally would have to wait a minimum of 15 years to gain citizenship, two years longer than the Senate version of immigration reform. But they would be eligible to receive a "probationary visa" Ryan said.
"We want to give people an ability to come out of the shadows and get themselves right with the law," he said.
Ryan was asked by an audience member for his reaction to the controversial comments made by Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa. During an interview with the conservative online site Newsmax, King derided the idea of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented children, also known as "dreamers."
King said, "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
Ryan said, "Representative King's remarks, I disagree with, I disavow, and they're wrong."
Ryan answered around a dozen questions from the predominantly Hispanic audience. A woman provided simultaneous translation in Spanish for a small segment of the crowd.
"It is encouraging that he is really taking leadership on this issue to try to move a bill this year," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the pro-immigration group Voces de la Frontera. "I feel it's important for someone in his position to continue to articulate the economic benefits of immigration reform for everyone and the moral imperative to do this."
Will Ryan succeed where Rubio failed? Rubio saw the issue as a springboard to the presidency - but ended up repudiating what he negotiated with Democrats. Ryan, too, appears to want to make political hay out of the issue and Republicans are really going to put pressure on Obama and the Democrats via their piecemeal approach to reform. There will not be a path to "citizenship" but rather a path to "legalization" - something President Obama claims he will never sign.
If Obama and the Democrats want some kind of immigration reform, they're going to have to drop the citizenship path and embrace something much less. Ryan won't manage the bills on the floor, but could emerge as a responsible leader in the House whose support was key if Republicans are successful.