Self deportation, anchor babies, catch and release, illegal — these are not the words you expect to hear from the mouth of an immigration reform advocate, but they are examples of some of the type of language used by Wisconsin Congressmen Paul Ryan as he remakes himself as a pro-immigrant Republican.
Earlier this week at a town hall meeting in Burlington, Wisconsin Ryan explained to his constituents that the children of immigrants are “anchor babies,” because they are U.S. citizens. He made these comments while framing the issue of immigration reform of the best way to deny immigrants benefits before they become citizens.
Previously Ryan, who recently teamed up with Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez-D, who has made immigration the centerpiece of his career, supported a “self-deportation” policy as a vice presidential candidate in the 2012 election. Just a few days ago, by Gutierrez’s side, Ryan called noted the need for reform because, “We have a broken immigration system and, if anything, what we see in Boston is that we have to fix and modernize our immigration system.”
He also previously referred to “catch and release” tactics when referring to immigrants, outraging some of his constituents at the language often used to describe fish.
Ryan had previously voted against the DREAM Act, interesting considering the immigration reform legislation he’s currently pushing contains similar legislation, and has been very pro-border enforcement in the past. He’s also voted to make unauthorized immigration a criminal, as opposed to civil, offense, wanted to make it harder for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, supported making local police immigration enforcers and also wanted hospitals to take legal status into account while treating patients.
From 2000 to 2010, Wisconsin’s Latino population grew 74%, but Ryan’s district is outside of Milwaukee, where the majority of Latinos in Wisconsin are concentrated. Whether they are in Milwaukee or not, Latinos in the state are one of the fastest growing groups.
People in Wisconsin were disappointed by Ryan’s choice of words this week.
“It’s really disappointing to hear that from Congressman Ryan, especially when he’s shown signs of moving forward in this somewhat productive way on pushing for a real comprehensive immigration reform,” said Joe Shansky, of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights group in Milwaukee.
“Actually,” Shansky added, “It’s disgusting that he’d resort to that really dehumanizing language.”
Other Democrats and Latinos in the state have pointed to Ryan’s ties to the Tea Party movement, which has been much more sympathetic to anti-immigrant figures like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio than Congressman Luis Gutierrez, for example. Some see Ryan’s pursuit of immigration reform as part of his future presidential aspirations.
“It’s especially sad because he’s talking about his constituents,” said Shanksy, of Voces de la Frontera. “I hope that he can speak about his constituents in a more respectful and productive manner.”