Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Ryan an immigration pragmatist?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
August 24, 2012 -- Updated 1827 GMT (0227 HKT)
 Rep. Paul Ryan, campaigning last week in Florida, has complicated views on immigration, Ruben Navarrette Jr. says.
Rep. Paul Ryan, campaigning last week in Florida, has complicated views on immigration, Ruben Navarrette Jr. says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Democrats paint Paul Ryan as down on immigration, but he's complicated
  • He says nativist group gave Ryan "C" on record; he's voted for laws giving some legal status
  • He says Ryan seems to see use of letting temporary workers stay for agricultural work, etc.
  • Navarrette: He may edge toward stricter views for campaign, but his votes so far show nuance

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Immigration groups, Obama surrogates, the media and the Democratic Party have a message for Latino voters, who some say could swing the election because they are heavily represented in four battleground states -- Colorado, Nevada, Florida and New Mexico.

Here's the message: Vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan is anti-Latino, and his immigration views are simplistic, intolerant and punitive.

Really? Someone should tell that to the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, which advocates not only an end to illegal immigration (and there is nothing wrong with that) but also a dramatic reduction in legal immigration to pre-1965 levels (there is a lot wrong with that). It is the views of groups such as this -- which sadly have a lot of influence on the Republican Party -- that can genuinely be called simplistic, intolerant and punitive.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

So why does NumbersUSA list Ryan's "career grade" in Congress as a "C"? Ryan's grade puts him in the bottom 10% of all current Republican members of Congress, according to Roy Beck, the group's founder and CEO.

The nicest thing that Beck could find to say about Ryan after the congressman from Wisconsin joined the GOP ticket was that Ryan "doesn't seem to have put a lot of thought into immigration policy and doesn't seem to have deep ideological reasons for his poor immigration record."

Wow. That's a ringing endorsement, isn't it? If someone like Beck thinks you have a "poor" record on immigration, it means you have both a heart and a brain.

Immigrants show up at Brewer's door
Undocumented valedictorian stays in U.S.
Thousands line up for deportation relief

Specifically, Beck is miffed at the Wisconsin Republican for not signing onto enough immigration enforcement bills and for co-sponsoring -- over the last 10 years -- various "amnesties to give illegal aliens a path to citizenship."

Sure enough. Ryan's record bears out he has over the years co-sponsored or voted for a number of bills that would have given legal status to illegal immigrants.

Beck tries to look on what he considers the bright side by suggesting that Ryan might be going nativist because lately he hasn't sponsored "any bills that would reward illegal aliens or increase legal foreign workers" and because Ryan's website "takes a fairly strong stand against amnesties." He also likes it that Ryan opposes the DREAM Act, which would have given legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military, but he wishes that Ryan hadn't expressed "sympathy" for the young people who stand to benefit from such a proposal.

As Beck sees it, much of the problem with Ryan on immigration is that he hangs out with a bad crowd.

In the early 1990s, Ryan worked for Empower America, a Washington-based think tank run by William Bennett, a former U.S. education secretary and current CNN contributor, and Jack Kemp, the former congressman and U.S. housing secretary. Both Bennett and Kemp had pro-immigration views and warned fellow Republicans not to get on the wrong side of demographics by alienating Hispanic voters.

That's the message that Bennett and Kemp took to California in 1994 where -- along with their friend, conservative columnist Linda Chavez -- they angered fellow Republicans by taking a public stand against Proposition 187, a dreadful ballot initiative that threatened to cut off education, welfare and nonemergency health care to illegal immigrants.

The picture that emerges is that Ryan's views on immigration are complicated and hard to pin down. He wants to secure the borders, but he has in the past voted for proposals that would have given select groups of illegal immigrants who are already here -- such as agricultural workers -- a pathway to earned legal status.

He also supports using temporary guest workers to offset labor shortages in some industries. In short, in a party where the loudest voices on immigration seem to belong to those with the most infantile views (See: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who in 2006 suggested fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border with electrical wire because "we do this all the time with livestock"), Ryan seems to be a grown-up and a pragmatist.

For instance, his support for guest workers suggests he understands there are jobs that Americans won't do and must be done by foreign workers. Also, while he is against illegal immigration, there isn't much evidence of him demeaning or demonizing the immigrants themselves.

This is not good news for Democrats who would dearly love to paint Ryan as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.

Say, are they sure they're not talking about President Barack Obama? His record on immigration is atrocious, capped off by a staggering 1.5 million deportations, the dividing of hundreds of thousands of families, the placement of thousands of U.S.-born children in foster care once their parents have been deported, and one falsehood after another intended to obscure all this.

With such a record, it's hard to trust the administration and believe it is suddenly trying to do the right thing with the election-year giveaway of deferred action for so-called "DREAM-ers" -- young illegal immigrants who would have benefited from the DREAM Act.

In contrast, Ryan hasn't done anything wrong or been in a position to make bad policy. All he seems to be guilty of is being affiliated with a party that has a poor record on immigration. Now that could change in the days to come as he moves closer to Mitt Romney on immigration. We'll see. But, at the moment, he's not trying to deport anyone. All he wants to do is help evict someone -- the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Ryan needs to clarify his immigration views. And if it turns out they're complicated and unpredictable and nuanced and don't look as if they came out of a cookie cutter, then all the better. Most Americans feel the same way.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT