Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) took another step toward a 2016 presidential bid Tuesday, by offering his qualified support for immigration reform during a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Paul — who has refused to deny his interest in the presidency, is reportedly already laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign — attempted to offer the type of “inclusive and welcoming” olive branch to Latinos that the RNC’s 2012 “autopsy” suggested the day before. Stressing that “immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution,” Paul declared, “I am here today to begin that conversation and to be part of the solution.”
“Let’s start that conversation by acknowledging we aren’t going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants,” he continued. “If you wish to work, if you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.”
The Tea Party favorite then laid out an immigration proposal that shares many elements with the bipartisan Senate plan endorsed by Paul’s potential 2016 rival, Marco Rubio, among others. Paul’s plan calls for strengthening border security, and eschewing mass deportations in favor of creating a “probationary period” during which undocumented immigrants could receive work visas (the total number of which would be determined by a bipartisan panel.)
“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 currently here illegally.”
Despite reports that Paul would support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he ultimately stopped short of this crucial step. “Conservatives, myself included, are wary of amnesty,” Paul said. “My plan will not grant amnesty or move anyone to the front of the line.”
Advisors to Paul stressed that point to The Washington Post shortly after the speech, saying “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,” and noting that “he does not mention ‘path to citizenship’ in his speech at all.”