Paul Ryan: I support Marco Rubio on immigration

What’s the most interesting part of this? That he’s reaching out to touch a third-rail issue, or that he’s ducking behind one of his biggest rivals for the 2016 nomination to do it?

Go figure that a guy who was part of a ticket that lost by nearly 50 points among Latinos is eager to rehab on immigration:

Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system. I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws; stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works.

He’s not just paying lip service to the issue. Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who once said that his only loyalty is to the immigrant community, met with Ryan last month to talk immigration and had encouraging things to say:

“What we did was just kind of catch up,” Gutierrez told me. Ryan and Gutierrez decided they want to “explore opportunities to work together.” Gutierrez, one of the House leaders on immigration issues — who has kept constant pressure on President Barack Obama to do more — is crossing the aisle as Republicans need very much to woo the fast growing number of Hispanic voters — who in large part rejected the Romney/Ryan ticket…

Not well known, Gutierrez noted, is that he and Ryan share some history: In 2005, Ryan was a co-sponsor of bipartisan and bi-cameral comprehensive immigration reform legislation carried in the House by Gutierrez and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “It wasn’t like it was a long line of Republicans supporting it. He’s always supported immigration reform,” Gutierrez said.

The inspiration for Ryan’s Facebook post is the glowing WSJ piece over the weekend heralding Rubio’s “charge up the middle” on immigration. But Mark Krikorian’s right: There’s little difference between Rubio’s basic principles for reform and the principles laid out by the White House in that recent NYT piece about their big upcoming push for an immigration bill. Here’s Rubio:

Politically hardest is the question of the up to 12 million illegals currently here. Mr. Rubio’s proposal allows for adults who overstayed their visa or sneaked in to come into the open.

“Here’s how I envision it,” he says. “They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check.” Anyone who committed a serious crime would be deported. “They would be fingerprinted,” he continues. “They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country.”

Legal status could lead to citizenship eventually, although Rubio doesn’t specify how long eventually might be. Now here’s the White House plan:

The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.

The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.

As I recall, the bills championed by Bush and McCain six years ago also had provisions about fines, back taxes, etc. Any comprehensive plan has to: An unconditional amnesty would be too politically toxic to pass, but so would a bill that relegated illegals to perpetual second-class status by categorically refusing to grant eventual citizenship to them. Whatever ends up passing Congress will have a multi-step amnesty as part of it, which should be perfectly fine with Democrats. If they need to wait a few years for all of those new votes to show up at the polls, that’s okay; if they can get a bill passed and then chip away at it with court challenges in order to speed up the citizenship process, even better. The interesting thing here is why Ryan’s so eager to hug Rubio on it. I assume it’s because it’s arguably the least risky move he can make ahead of 2016. If he comes out strong for “enforcement first” and rejects any amnesty talk until there have been measurable improvements in border security, he’ll be hammered for compounding the GOP’s problems with Latinos, which makes him theoretically unviable in the general election. If he does the opposite and emerges on Rubio’s left by pushing a less conditional amnesty, now he’s suddenly vulnerable in the primary as a RINO. He knows that Rubio’s destined to be the Republican face of whatever happens in Congress and he also knows that conservatives will tread lightly in criticizing Rubio for whatever position he ends up taking lest they slip even further with Latinos in 2016, so Ryan’s doing the prudent thing — letting Rubio serve as lightning rod while he signals that he’s at least as open-minded and reformist on this issue as his rival is.

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