In a town hall with 500 Georgetown University students, House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday offered a glimpse into the more inclusive GOP he envisions. The Wisconsin congressman acknowledged Confederate symbols are divisive and addressed young U.S. citizens with undocumented parents who every day live with the fear their families could be broken up by deportations.
Speaker Ryan, a descendant of Irish immigrants, discussed immigration in a more positive tone than his party’s presidential candidates, saying immigration is a “beautiful story that needs to continue in this country.” Unlike the majority of Republicans, who use the dehumanizing term “illegal immigrants,” Ryan opted for the phrase “undocumented immigrants.”
“I’m a person who believes that for the undocumented, we have to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve mass deportation, that involves giving people the ability to get right with the law, to come in and earn a legal status while we fix the rest of legal immigration,” Ryan said at the town hall.
The only problem with Speaker Ryan’s more inclusive vision of the Republican Party is that the two leading GOP presidential hopefuls, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, disagree with his views. That, and the speaker himself has refused to the address immigration reform while President Obama is still in office.
Ryan addressed immigration reform after a student asked why the speaker has promised to not work on immigration reform before November.
“Look my name is Ryan, I’m here because the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland. Our family made it and each generation had even more opportunities,” Ryan said.
Close to 77% of the nation’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants are Latino, but Ryan said immigration was not a Latino or a demographic issue.
“This is not about Democrats, it’s not about Latinos, it’s not at all about that,” said Ryan, who noted one of his longest serving employees is a “beautiful person” from the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Ryan said when he travels his constituents tell him their main concern is national security. “This is about heroin, opioids, this is about ISIS,” said Speaker Ryan. “It’s about the rule of law and this country knowing who is coming and who is going.”
Ryan also addressed the increasing number of cities that have stopped flying Confederate flags in front of public buildings after a student asked about the “erasure of Southern symbols.”
Ryan said he supported South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who last year removed the Confederate flag from the state capital.
“This [Confederate] symbol I think does more to divide this country then to unify this country," said Ryan, who noted it “insults” some individuals.
The Georgetown student who asked Ryan about immigration said he wasn’t satisfied with the speaker’s answer.
“Ryan's answer on this let me down. He claims to be a unifier, creating an inclusive GOP, but it's answers and action like this that demonstrate just how shallow that commitment is,” Matthew Fried, a senior at Georgetown studying government studies, wrote in an email to Fusion.
“If Speaker Ryan cared about immigration reform, he would work with the President on legislation that looks like past bipartisan immigration bills. Instead, it's clear that the Speaker would rather pander to the base of his party,” Fried said.