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Politics & Government

Immigration Advocates Hope Issue Remains Front and Center

John Moore/Getty Images

Lawmakers in D.C. are back to work this week. While Syria is garnering a lot of attention, immigration advocates hope their cause remains at the forefront. They want the U.S. to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. A leading Republican voice on the topic is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Throughout the month of August, this ad was almost inescapable in the Milwaukee market.

“Paul Ryan and immigration amnesty, not a chance. Paul’s doing what he always does, working for a smart conservative solution to a tough problem.”

A group called Americans for a Conservative Direction paid for the ad. Members include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley businesspeople.

A competing ad also popped up on local television.

“Thousands are looking for work, yet Ryan wants to grant amnesty to illegal aliens and bring in millions more foreign workers to take our jobs. Does congressman Ryan thinks Wisconsin workers aren’t good enough to get the job done?”

The ad criticizing Ryan’s position came from the Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR. A quick check with the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates FAIR’s founders have ties to white supremacist organizations.

Both groups responsible for the TV ads say their goal is to raise awareness among Ryan’s constituents, about his stance on immigration reform.

He made his position clear at a series of town hall meetings.

The Congressman wants the U.S. to establish a probationary period for undocumented immigrants.

“And during that probationary status they will pay a fine, they will pay back taxes, we’ll make sure that they’re not a convicted felon they’ll take civics classes, they’ll learn English,” Ryan says.

Ryan says once probation ends, those completing it would get in line with everybody else seeking U.S. citizenship. He estimates the process taking 15 years. Ryan says he’s not out to win votes, but to do what makes sense, economically. In fact, the organizer of his town hall meetings was the National Association of Manufacturers.

“When we’ve got baby boomers retiring, when we’ve got 10,000 people retiring every day as they will be for 10 years coming, we’re going to need people,” Ryan says.

But how exactly did Paul Ryan become the point person for Republicans on this issue?

Chris Murray teaches at Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington. He says Ryan is skilled at working with both GOP leaders and the party’s junior lawmakers.

“Congressman Ryan is somebody who has credibility with both of those camps having been a recent vice presidential nominee, having gone through campaign in which immigration and the Hispanic vote was very important. And also somebody who is just pretty well versed in the details of the policy,” Murray says.

Immigration advocates hope Ryan can sway colleagues with his reasoning. Joe Shansky is spokesman for the Milwaukee group Voces de la Frontera.

“Now that he’s back off vacation, we expect him to get to work to make sure that this is a priority for his colleagues in Congress as well,” Shansky says.

Yet they may dive into more immediate issues - America’s involvement in Syria’s civil war and the Affordable Health Care Act. Its massive changes start kicking in, come October.