WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul is calling for conservatives to embrace the cause of immigration reform, outlining a proposal that would grant some form of legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants after the federal government has certified that the border is secure.
Paul’s proposal, outlined in a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Tuesday, carefully avoided the term citizenship. Instead, the Kentucky senator said he sought a middle ground that would include a multi-year process of granting visas to undocumented workers that would hinge on the annual verification of the security of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Paul echoed the key finding of an internal review from the Republican National Committee that called for the party to recast its image in order to attract minority voters, saying the GOP must change the perception of the party as anti-immigrant.
Latinos, should be a natural constituency for the party, Paul argued, but “Republicans have pushed them away with harsh rhetoric over immigration.”
“Republicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to permanent minority status,” he said. “In our zeal for border control, we have sometimes obscured our respect and admiration for immigrants and their contribution to America.”
Paul’s plan, which mirrors one he sketched in a February op-ed piece, would begin with a process in which the U.S.-Mexico border would be certified as secure. He would require certification by the Border Patrol and an investigator general, followed by a vote in Congress.
Such a first step is necessary, he said, to bring conservatives on board with a solution. Then, he would create a bipartisan panel to determine how many visas should be granted for workers already in the United States and those who might follow.
He then proposes what he calls a “middle ground” between what has been derided as “amnesty” for current illegal workers, and deportation, which he calls an unrealistic option. Instead, those who came to the U.S. illegally would “become legal through a probationary period,” a step his office clarified would not constitute a path to citizenship.
“Imagine 12 million people who are already here coming out of the shadows to become new taxpayers. Twelve million more people assimilating into society. Twelve million more people being productive contributors,” he said.
Paul, who drew national attention for a marathon filibuster questioning the U.S. drone policy and won a weekend straw vote of conservative activists as their preferred 2016 standard-bearer, joins a growing roster of leading Republicans who have called for a new approach to immigration reform since the 2012 elections.
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have been working for months to develop legislation that might be introduced in the coming weeks. House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday that the leadership was recently briefed by members of a House working group, and that “they’re essentially in agreement over how to proceed.” The next step, he said, would be to educate the broader membership “to help them understand the issue.”