Update at 2:12 p.m.:
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul says the U.S. needs to “find a place” for undocumented immigrant workers. The Bowling Green Republican addressed the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, in what many analysts are seeing as another sign that Paul is preparing for a 2016 presidential run.
While he never used the word “citizenship” in his speech, Paul promised to be what he called “part of the solution” on immigration reform, saying the nation needs to create some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants. Addressing his audience, the Kentucky Senator said "if you wish to work, if you wish to live in America, then we will find a place for you.” Paul says his position is a middle ground between amnesty and deportation, saying conservative members of his party must acknowledge the country can’t deport 12 million illegal immigrants.
The remarks are a major reversal of Paul’s earlier positions, which included calls for a constitutional amendment ending birthright citizenship and a proposal to build an underground electric fence along the length of the southern U.S. border.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is endorsing a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants, a significant move for a favorite of tea party Republicans who are sometimes hostile to such an approach.
In a speech to be delivered Tuesday morning to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the potential 2016 presidential candidate declares, "If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you." A copy of the speech was obtained in advance by The Associated Press.
Paul's path to citizenship would come with conditions that could make it long and difficult for illegal immigrants. Chief among these, Congress would have to agree first that progress was being made on border security.
Nonetheless, Paul's endorsement of allowing illegal immigrants an eventual way to become citizens puts him in line with a growing number of Republicans who are embracing action on immigration as a way to broaden the GOP's appeal to Latinos. On Monday, a Republican National Committee report called on the GOP to support comprehensive reform, though without specifying whether it should include a pathway to citizenship, which is decried by some conservatives as amnesty.
Paul's move also comes as a bipartisan group of senators is nearing agreement on sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, an effort that could get a boost from Paul's stance. In an interview, Paul said he could foresee backing the Senate group's emerging bill, although he plans to try to amend it on the floor with some of his own ideas.
Paul's speech is peppered with Spanish phrases from his youth in Texas, references to his immigrant grandparents and praise for Latino culture. He says his party must adopt a new face toward Hispanics and says conservatives must be part of it.
"Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation," Paul says.
"Let's start that conversation by acknowledging we aren't going to deport" the millions already here, he says.
For Paul, there are political overtones to his newly articulated stance, since he's viewed as a potential presidential candidate and Hispanics are an increasingly important part of the electorate. Latino voters overwhelmingly backed President Barack Obama last year, helping seal his re-election, and Paul said the GOP needs to reverse that trend or risk "permanent minority status."
In his speech, Paul lays out broad elements of a comprehensive immigration overhaul that has some overlap with the approach contemplated by the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight, which hopes to release its legislation next month. The Senate group aims to secure the border, improve legal immigration and boost workplace enforcement, as well as create a pathway to citizenship.
Like the Senate group, Paul would aim to secure the border before illegal immigrants could begin taking steps toward citizenship, and he emphasizes this as a necessary first step to get support from conservatives.
He doesn't specify how the border would be made more secure but says the Border Patrol and an inspector general would have to sign off. Congress would also have to agree annually for five years that border security was progressing in order for the other reforms Paul envisions to keep moving forward.