Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may be the face of immigration for the right, but trailing not far behind is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has gone much farther than other House leaders in embracing reform.
Like Rubio, Ryan is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, which both lends more weight to his support and puts him in line for a damaging backlash if the issue becomes toxic on the right.
Ryan offered pubic encouragement to Rubio and the other "Gang of 8" senators throughout their negotiations to craft a comprehensive reform bill. And unlike other House leaders who encouraged "reform" in theory while dodging the specifics
of what a bill would entail, Ryan specifically embraced a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants right out of the gate
In recent days, Ryan has stepped up his public advocacy on the topic just as the Boston Marathon attack -- allegedly carried out by ethnic Chechen brothers who came to the United States as refugees when they were children -- is presenting new political challenges to the reform effort.
On Monday, Ryan joined Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), one of the lawmakers working on a bipartisan House immigration bill, for a series of joint events in Chicago promoting reform
"We need it for national security reasons. We need it for the economy," Ryan said
. "We do not want to have a society where we have different classes of people who cannot reach their American dream by not being a full citizen."
Gutierrez, a longtime progressive proponent of revamping immigration laws, noted at one of their events that Ryan wasn't a "Johnny come lately" and had worked on the issue throughout the last decade. In a previous interview
, Gutierrez said that Ryan had told him during his vice presidential run that he planned on returning to a comprehensive reform bill after the election, win or lose -- even as running mate Mitt Romney took a hardline position on the trail.
But Ryan's newfound visibility also puts him line to get some of the same talk radio abuse
that Rubio has been scrambling to contain lately.
On Tuesday, Breitbart reporter Joel Pollak grilled Ryan
about why he appeared with Gutierrez, "who has some very radical views on immigration," and about a variety of conservative concerns about the Senate bill.
In one notable exchange, Ryan argued that the Boston marathon attack -- currently a source of conflict
for the Senate's immigration efforts -- was further evidence that Congress needed to pass reform.
"If anything, it shows that we need to modernize our immigration laws," he said. "We don't know who is overstaying their visa, we don't know who is coming into the country, we don't have firm control of our borders, and we need to modernize our laws."
That answer prompted condemnation
from radio host Mark Levin, who has also been on the offensive
against Rubio's bill despite the Florida Senator's best efforts to court his support.
"Paul Ryan is an extremely likable guy," Levin said. "He's been on this show many times. I like the man. But he's creating a record here for himself that makes it very, very hard, in my view, if he chooses to run for president, to vote for him.