Rand Paul endorses a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Rand Paul: Don’t Call it Path to Citizenship

Rand Paul: Don’t Call it Path to Citizenship

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March 19 2013 3:45 PM

Sen. Rand Paul Illustrates How Difficult it is for Republicans To Talk Immigration Reform

"Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution," says Sen. Rand Paul.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

UPDATE: Confusion strikes. Tuesday morning, everyone (Slatest included) reported that tea party darling Sen. Rand Paul was backing a path to citizenship. It’s the latest example of GOP turnaround on immigration as a way of capturing Latino voters! Eh, not so fast. Even though Paul did say illegal immigrants should be allowed to become taxpayers, he never actually said “citizenship” in his 17-minute speech, and aides quickly went out of their way to insist that all the path-to-citizenship talk was misguided. Instead, the important part of his speech, they argued, was that Paul was backing an idea to give probationary legal worker status to illegal immigrants while increasing the focus on border security. Part of the confusion seems to be that the Associated Press was the first to use the path-to-citizenship language based on a copy of the speech Paul’s office gave the news agency Monday night. In that version, Paul specifically made a mention to working on a way that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain green cards. But there was no reference to green cards when he actually spoke Tuesday morning, explains the AP.

Paul told the Washington Post that he never used the word citizenship on purpose. ”Basically what I want to do is to expand the worker visa program, have border security and then as far as how people become citizens, there already is a process for how people become citizens. The main difference is I wouldn’t have people be forced to go home. You’d just get in line. But you get in the same line everyone is in.” So, Paul’s plan would make it easier to become citizens, but he doesn’t want to hear any of this path-to-citizenship nonsense. Um, OK. The obvious question: Why? Oh, it’s semantics. “I think the whole debate on immigration is trapped in a couple of words: path to citizenship and amnesty,” he said. “Can’t we just have reform and not refer to them by names?” 

So, in conclusion, what did we learn today? It’s still awfully difficult for Republicans to talk about immigration reform. Here might be a good time to point out that the report the GOP released Monday on how the party can move forward after its devastating November losses pointed out Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” Seems a new vocabulary has to be written up first.

Original post, March 19, 10:11 a.m.: Fresh off his victory at the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, Tea Party darling Rand Paul is endorsing a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants, reports the Associated Press. The Kentucky senator unveiled his stance during an address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in a move that could help get other conservatives on board with an idea they have traditionally resisted. It also demonstrates just how much the Republican Party is shifting on this issue as it tries to woo Latino voters. Indeed, the report the GOP released Monday on how the party can move forward after its devastating November losses pointed out Republicans“must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” But Paul's endorsement could also could lead to a break within the party as some conservatives continue to decry a path to citizenship as amnesty.

"Prudence, compassion, and thrift all point us toward the same goal: bringing these workers out of the shadows and into becoming and being taxpaying members of society," Paul said during his address. As could be expected, Paul’s path to citizenship comes with some very strict conditions, including that Congress would have to first agree there’s significant progress on border security. His announcement could give a boost to a group of bipartisan senators currently working on comprehensive immigration reform. Paul tells the AP that while he could see himself backing the bill that emerges from those discussions, he still plans to try to amend it with some of his own ideas.

On Monday night, Paul called his CPAC straw poll victory “invigorating,” making it clear on Fox News that he’s strongly considering running for president in 2016. Paul received 25 percent of the vote in the straw poll, closely followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who won 23 percent. Rubio, who is working on the immigration reform bill, has long sought to get conservative backing for the measure, points out the Hill.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.