Republican Congressman Paul Ryan at breakfast hosted by the Irish Immigration Reform
close to Capitol Hill. (Credit: Jay Premack/ILIR)

Congressman Paul Ryan, the former Vice Presidential candidate and a likely GOP presidential front runner in 2016, has come out swinging on the need for immigration reform.

Maybe it was the Irish hurling stick that the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) president Ciaran Staunton gave him in honor of his Kilkenny ancestors that did the trick, but Ryan made a firm promise to Irish Americans present at an ILIR Republican congressional breakfast on Wednesday that he would do his utmost to deliver immigration reform. IrishCentral also co-hosted the breakfast.

While other Republicans have been running away from the issue Ryan is embracing it and given his clout in the party he certainly can have a huge impact.

Ryan stated that immigration was definitely on “the to-do list” for House Republicans this fall, probably right after the budget crisis is dealt with.

“It’s going to be one of those legislative processes that is going to take some work. There are those of us who are very much dedicated to doing this,” he stated.

In person Ryan is impressive. He had no handlers, strode into the breakfast room at the Republican Capitol Hill Club and had a friendly word for everyone. He was one of seven key GOP Congressmen who attended and was this year’s honoree.

Also present was new Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson and about seventy Irish American community leaders from key states. Former Congressman Jim Walsh was also involved in bringing the GOP congressmen to the event.

Once up on stage Ryan, 44, made clear his affinity to his heritage, tracing his family roots from Kilkenny and the journey over to Wisconsin. He quoted extensively from a Famine ship document which warned the immigrants what to expect in America and to work hard.

Ryan rekindled hope that the GOP house will actually turn to this issue as one of the few where they can agree a way forward with Democrats. After weeks of bad news about how the issue was being utterly overshadowed by the budget mess that was good news indeed.

The poise and easy charm that Ryan has makes him a formidable political operator. He was also clearly on top of his brief, not always the case with politicians and immigration.

Afterwards the Irish contingent retired for a bull session to discuss the best way to push for reform. There was a dramatic moment when a young illegal Irish woman spoke up about how difficult her life was in America in her current status. Suddenly for everyone the issue was more than an abstract problem affecting someone else. The impact was there right in front of us.

I sense a far more united Irish community and Irish government approach this go round on immigration reform. The Ryan news was a welcome boost but much more needs to be done. I think there is great commitment among the Irish this time to get it done and hopefully they will.