Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Ryan wooing Hispanics for 2016?

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
Ruben Navarrette says Paul Ryan's visit to Chicago may have been partly to kick off his 2016 Hispanic outreach efforts
Ruben Navarrette says Paul Ryan's visit to Chicago may have been partly to kick off his 2016 Hispanic outreach efforts
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: In Chicago visit, Rep. Paul Ryan speaks in favor of immigration reform
  • He says many in GOP oppose Senate bill; Latinos know Ryan has record of backing reform
  • Is Chicago trip kickoff of 2016 Hispanic outreach efforts? It could help, if he follows up, he says
  • Navarrette: Rubio, Bush others likely to do same. In Latino outreach, little things mean a lot

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

(CNN) -- I bet that Paul Ryan is not typically serenaded by mariachis.

But then, this week was anything but typical for the Republican congressman from Wisconsin.

Ryan traveled to Chicago--and across the aisle--to appear alongside Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, perhaps Congress' most vocal proponent of immigration reform.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

The two men gave a joint presentation at the City Club of Chicago, where -- even in that bluest of blue cities -- the business friendly audience probably favors many of Ryan's economic policies.

Before that, the two lawmakers went into a Hispanic neighborhood to meet with activists, members of the clergy and immigrant advocates. It was there that the mariachis greeted them. In the crowd, a man appreciatively held up a banner with Ryan's photo on it and the words: "Gracias, Ryan."

For immigration reform advocates, there is a lot for which to be thankful these days. At a time when more and more Republicans in Congress are expressing skepticism about a Senate bill that combines border security with a guest worker program and legal status for the undocumented, Ryan is doubling down on his support. He thinks the current system is failing us. He told the crowd that what we're doing now is bad for national security, bad for business, bad for communities and bad for families.

Right you are, congressman. On all counts.

During the visit, Ryan told reporters: "I would say for the sake of our national security, we want to modernize our immigration laws. We do not even know how to track people who overstay their visas. We need a modern immigration system that helps us not only protect our border but protects national security in all of its aspects. So if anything, I would say this is an argument for modernizing our immigration laws. We need it for national security, we need it for our economy."

And when Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, talks about the economy, he is on familiar terrain.

"If you take a look at contributions that immigrants make to society ... it produces faster economic growth, which brings in more revenue to the federal government," he said. "So if you look at this issue in its totality, immigration is a net positive contributor to the economy."

The congressman also knows his way around the immigration issue. In 2005, as Gutierrez reminded the crowd, Ryan co-sponsored an immigration reform bill in the House that was ultimately voted down. He has said he is especially concerned that employers, including the kinds of farmers and ranchers who populate his home state, have access to the labor they need to stay in business.

Giuliani: Immigration reform a hurdle
Can GOP court Hispanic vote?

In fact, over the last decade, Ryan has supported or co-sponsored what the anti-immigrant group, NUMBERS USA, disdainfully called "various amnesties to give illegal aliens a path to citizenship." It's one reason that the group -- which advocates both an end to illegal immigration and a dramatic reduction in legal immigration, to pre-1965 levels -- gave Ryan's career in Congress a "C." That grade puts him in the bottom 10% of all current Republican members of Congress, according to the group's executive director, Roy Beck. And, conversely, it puts him in the top 10%, as far as many Latinos are concerned. You see, it only helps build Ryan's "street cred" that he's not popular with groups that attract so many anti-Latino nativists.

The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee is almost certain to run for the top job in 2016 as part of what could turn out to be a crowded field. Other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination could include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

With that kind of lineup, you can expect immigration to be a top issue in the GOP primary. Rubio is the de facto spokesman for the 844-page comprehensive immigration reform bill cobbled together by the Senate's "gang of eight." Cruz is a vocal critic of the plan. Lately, Jeb Bush seems to have cornered the market on just about every position imaginable on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Ryan needs to get his ducks in a row. Was this week's trip to Chicago the kick-off of his 2016 Hispanic outreach efforts? If so, will it work?

It could, if it is followed up by other visits and more speeches and continued attention to Latino concerns. It's a start. If Ryan talks less, and listens more, he'll stand out from other politicians and could impress Latino voters as someone whose interests, on some issues, align with theirs.

The GOP is doing a lot of soul-searching these days trying to figure out how to get Latinos to show them some love. There are strategy sessions and focus groups and smarty-pants consultants with their pie charts and bar graphs. But folks make this stuff harder than it really is.

In the world of Latino outreach, sometimes, it's the little things that count for a lot. Like a Republican congressman from Wisconsin taking an unexpected detour to say his piece and pay his respects to a constituency poorly served by both parties, despite the likelihood that he'll be hammered by some in his own party.

Like the man said -- Gracias, Ryan.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
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.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
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?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT