"The biggest change, really, on immigration reform for getting to citizenship would be we're not going to make you go to Mexico," Paul told reporters after his speech. "You have an option to get in the line without going home and that's the main difference from what we have now, as well as you get a work visa if you want to work."
Paul's newly articulated stance clearly has political overtones. He said this month he's seriously considering a presidential bid in 2016 and Hispanics are an increasingly growing portion of the electorate. Latino voters overwhelmingly backed President Barack Obama last year, helping seal his re-election.
In his speech, Paul laid out broad elements of a comprehensive immigration overhaul that overlap with the approach contemplated by the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight. The bipartisan group hopes to release its legislation next month with provisions for securing the border, improving legal immigration and boosting workplace enforcement, as well as creating a pathway to citizenship. 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.
Like the Senate group, Paul would aim to secure the border before granting illegal immigrants probationary status. "In order to bring conservatives to this cause, however, those who work for reform must understand that a real solution must ensure that our borders are secure," he said.
Paul didn't specify how the border should be made more secure, but he said the Border Patrol and an inspector general would have to certify that it is. 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.
In year two of his plan, illegal immigrants could begin getting temporary work visas. They would have to wait for an unspecified period of time in a probationary legal status before getting green cards. A bipartisan panel would determine the number of visas per year. High-tech visas would be expanded and a special visa for entrepreneurs would be issued. Illegal immigrants would not be able to get on a citizenship path ahead of anyone already going through the process legally.
Different from other approaches, Paul's approach would not attempt to crack down on employers by expanding working verification systems, something he says is tantamount to "making every business owner a policeman."
"My plan will not grant amnesty or move anyone to the front of the line," Paul said in his speech. "But what we have now is de facto amnesty."
Follow Erica Werner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericawerner