Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press)

While Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is carrying the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform plan on his back in the Senate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is out in Wisconsin explaining immigration reform to constituents in much the same way as Rubio does when talking to a national audience.

The Journal Times of Racine, Wis., reports that Ryan “strayed from his traditional territory of taxes and budgets this week to preview the upcoming congressional battle on immigration reform and to address constituent questions on gun control, among other issues.” The report continues:

Holding listening sessions Tuesday in Burlington and Wednesday in Racine, Ryan opened with his trademark PowerPoint slideshow presentation before answering constituent questions.

Ryan told reporters Wednesday that he wanted to reform the current immigration system “because it’s broken, not for any political reasons.”

Although some have touted immigration reform as a means for the GOP to win back Democrat-leaning Hispanic voters, Ryan said, “I don’t look at this as ‘we need to do a better job of playing identity politics’; we need to do a better job of just doing a good job, of good policies.”

To reach Hispanic voters, “Just treat people with respect. Just treat them like they’re any voter,” he said. “I don’t look at people as a certain identity. I don’t look at people as belonging to some group.”

During the listening sessions, Ryan emphasized that the changes he supports “are not amnesty.”

Reform should start by securing the border, enforcing existing laws through an “e-verify” identity database and creating a “workable, legal” system for future immigration, Ryan said. And all of that should happen before processing illegal immigrants through a probationary, earned legalization process, he said.

The question remains about whether the Gang of Eight plan can get through the House, even with the support of conservative reformers such as Ryan.

Rubio rattled supporters this week by saying that it couldn’t get through the House in its present form. Rubio’s staff pointed to an interview with radio talk show host Michael Gallagher in which Rubio stated, “Let’s try to fix it. Let’s try to change it, but to just say let’s defeat the whole thing, I don’t think that’s a productive approach either. I think this is a starting point that obviously we can and should improve.”

In fact, the thinking on the GOP side of the Gang of Eight is that the bill as currently formulated could make it through a vote on the House floor. However, that probably would entail going around “regular order” (which Rubio has vowed to respect) and putting the speaker in the House in the uncomfortable position of forcing a vote without support of the majority of his Republican conference. Instead, the preferred course is to allow conservatives in the Senate to improve the bill, get a super-majority of the Senate to pass it and cobble together GOP support for the bill in the House. Rubio and others view this as a long process in which working the process, answering questions and looking for opportunities to improve the bill is more important than claiming “momentum.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been helpful in getting others to accept the concept of a path to citizenship. That sets him apart from exclusionists, including Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas. It puts him in a potentially critical role as the conservative who delivers on border security, teeing up the bill for Ryan and House Republicans.

Matt Lewis confirms Paul’s role, reporting today that  Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to  hold a Homeland Security Committee hearing on immigration, specifically looking at the visa issues implicated in the Boston bombing case. Lewis finds that before Paul got into the mix, “there had been no indication that the Homeland Security Committee would hold a hearing relevant to the immigration bill. . . . [S]o for the time being, it appears that Republicans — including Paul and Sen. Rubio — have won an important concession, this time in the realm of procedure.”

Republicans have a great deal of flexibility in shaping the outcome of the bill. The White House is obviously desperate for a second-term accomplishment and seems inclined to lean on its allies to swallow their reservations. With every additional hearing, the exclusionists’ complaint about being “jammed” on the bill looks less valid.

Democrats and right-wing exclusionists are fast becoming bit players in what is becoming a dance between Rubio, Senate conservatives who want to beef up the bill, the House GOP leadership and House conservatives. In that quartet, there are players who want to wreck the bill and others who genuinely want a tough border security deal married to a path to citizenship.

The Boston bombings, contrary to the conventional wisdom of Beltway media and the fond hopes of immigration reform opponents, hasn’t derailed immigration reform. In fact the interplay of immigration and national security has given some heft to Republican supporters of the Gang of Eight.

And while more “foreigners” have been arrested, examples of foreign-born heroic figures remind Americans that immigrants are critical to our success. From the Chinese-born entrepreneur who was car-jacked to the medical teams in Boston, we’ve seen their contributions. Israel 21c reports:

Israeli critical care specialist {Romanian born] Dr. Pinchas Halpern is used to dealing with terror attacks. It’s not a familiarity that most doctors would wish to achieve, but as director of emergency medicine at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center since 1993, Halpern has had no choice but to become an expert on mass casualties.

It’s no surprise, then, that in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, when three people were killed and another 282 injured, he was one of the first people US doctors treating the severely wounded victims at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center called to discuss the logistics of handling casualties of the horrific attack. . . . The president and emergency department director at Beth Israel Deaconess are both Israeli-educated physicians. Dr. David Spector, on staff at Tufts Medical Center, where 18 victims were rushed from the horrific scene, was formerly a surgeon at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and served in the Air Force’s Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit.

In an email, a hospital spokeswoman gave me an even broader perspective:
“Needless to say, there are many people throughout the hospital — in the Emergency Department, in the ORs, in the recovery areas, in the ICUs, on the inpatient units, Radiology, Pathology, Social Services, etc. — who collaborated on the care of the 39 patients we received from the Marathon bombings. Literally thousands of people have been involved in their care.”

There is no way to provide “an accurate head count” of all the foreign-born employees who contributed to the effort.

In other words, the immigration system the United States needs would keep out the bad apples while preserving the country as a magnet for talented, hardworking people of good character who will contribute to our society.

Given all that, I’ll stick with my assessment there’s a roughly 50-50 shot to get comprehensive immigration reform — which is a heck of a lot better than the chances for anti-gun legislation, a grand bargain or tax reform.