Can Rand Paul Fix the GOP's Immigration Problem?

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's immigration reform wouldn't include a path to citizenship.

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Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in a speech Tuesday that the United States must prioritize immigration reform and in doing so, that the Republican Party must stop alienating Hispanics.

A possible 2016 presidential contender and Tea Party favorite, Paul emphasized his Texan roots and said his party must work harder to reach immigrants if it hopes to have a viable future.

"Somewhere along the line Republicans have failed to understand and articulate that immigrants are an asset to America, not a liability," he said. "It is absolutely vital the Republican Party must embrace more legal immigration. If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Paul endorsed providing work visas to undocumented workers who are already in the United States, but did not advocate for a path to citizenship. The speech generated some confusion over whether or not Paul embraced citizenship, so much so that his office released a statement afterwards to clarify: "He does not mention ‘path to citizenship' in his speech at all."

In an interview after the speech, Paul said, "as far as how people become citizens, there already is a process," leaving the end status of current undocumented immigrants under his plan  somewhat vague. An adviser added that undocumented immigrants "would get into the back of the line and get no special privileges to do so … What his plan is extending to them is a quicker path to normalization, not citizenship, and being able to stay, work and pay taxes legally."

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the Senate's Immigration Deal a Good Plan?]

In the speech, Paul did say his plan is not amnesty (the meaning of which changes depending upon who is defining it).

Conservatives, myself included, are wary of amnesty … But I'd say what we have now is de facto amnesty. The solution doesn't have to be amnesty or deportation, maybe there's a middle ground where we call it probation where those who came here illegally—who did break the law—have a period they have to go through called probationary period.

A bipartisan group of senators in January also  released an immigration reform framework, but that plan does include a path to citizenship. Paul's plan also called for more border security, and for young people brought to the U.S. as children to be given legal status. He also expressed disagreement with the country's federal electronic system for checking employment eligibility, something that puts him at odds with many in his party:

My plan will not, though—and this is where I disagree with some in the bipartisan group—impose a national ID card ... It will also not have mandatory E-Verify. I don't mind if there's E-Verify, maybe related to the tax code somehow, but I don't like the idea of making every business owner a policeman.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Paul's speech comes the day after the Republican National Committee released a 97-page document which seeks to identify and solve the problems faced by the party, including its stance on immigration. The document said the party plans to "develop a program designed to educate Republicans on the importance of developing and tailoring a message that is non-inflammatory and inclusive to all."

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