US News and World Report
By Rebekah Metzler
March 19, 2013
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky added his voice to other leading conservatives calling for comprehensive immigration reform during a speech Tuesday to Hispanic business leaders, using a hodge-podge of Spanish and issues like education to entreat the audience.
Paul, who grew up in Texas, said he "never met a Latino who wasn't working" and chastised his fellow Republicans for often using harsh rhetoric that has alienated Hispanics.
"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."
Paul's remarks echo that of the Republican National Committee, which called for comprehensive reform in a report issued Monday. And a bipartisan group of senators, not including Paul, has been working to build a reform package that could pass Congress.
Following 2012 election losses, Republicans have sought to renew support for their brand among Hispanics and other groups that they lost by wide margins to Democrats.
Paul, who is positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2016, said he supports providing work visas for illegal immigrants already in the United States and tacitly offered approval for a means of their reaching legal status.
"The modernization of our visa system and border security would allow us to accurately track immigration," Paul said. "It would also enable us to let more people in, and allow us to admit we are not going to deport the millions of people who are already here."
Paul, a Tea Party and conservative favorite, represents just how far apart any future Republican presidential candidate will be in the future from just last year when standard-bearer Mitt Romney called on the same group of 11 million illegal immigrants to "self-deport" back to their home countries.
But Paul was quick to shy away from labeling his plan as akin to "amnesty," the politically charged term that has been an anathema to Republican support for past immigration proposals.
"Conservatives, myself included, are wary of amnesty," he said, adding that the term "amnesty" is a blanket term that can mean any number of things depending "who wants to make up the definition."
"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," Paul said.
In addition to finding a way to build support for comprehensive immigration reform, some of the recommendations within Monday's self-autopsy by Republican officials underscores GOP difficulties with wooing Hispanic voters.
Republicans need to "train and prepare ethnic conservatives for media presentations" and "develop a program designed to educate Republicans on the importance of developing and tailoring a message that is non-inflammatory and inclusive to all," the report says.
Republicans also need "to establish a training program available to all Republican candidates that would educate them on the particular culture, aspirations, positions on issues, contributions to the country, etc., of the demographic group they are trying to reach," according to the report.
Democrats, meanwhile, have managed to not only educate most of their candidates on the not using "inflammatory" rhetoric but build close ties to ethnic communities over decades.
Paul's presentation, which also emphasized the importance of border security and in a break from many Republicans cited his opposition for a mandatory program for business to verify the legal status of their workers, shows that he's well-positioned to make inroads with Hispanics. In addition to his frequent mentioning of working and going to school alongside Latinos in Texas, he cited several well-known Hispanic writers or leaders, including Miguel de Unamuno, Jaime Escalante and even quoting the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
"How can we not embrace such passion? How can we not want that culture to merge with and infuse with the American spirit?" Paul said. "As we move forward on immigration reform, I for one will work to find a solution that both adheres to the rule of law and makes rooms for compassion."