Rand Paul's immigration plan: Border security before probationary legal status

The AP claimed this morning that Paul was set to endorse a path to citizenship in his speech today. Not so, countered conservatives on Twitter: Read his prepared remarks and you’ll see that citizenship is never mentioned. Which is true, and also irrelevant. The whole point of Paul’s speech is GOP rapprochement with Latino voters; he spends nearly two-thirds of it extolling Latinos’ work ethic, reminiscing about his friendships with Latinos growing up in Texas, name-checking Jaime Escalante and Pablo Neruda, and of course citing the ancient canard that Latinos are really just Republicans who don’t know it yet. (He mentions abortion and gay marriage as particular areas of overlap. In fact, younger Latinos support legal abortion in all or most cases and nearly 60 percent of Latinos overall support state recognition of gay marriage.) There’s no earthly way that Paul, having made a conciliatory pitch that florid, would ultimately turn around and insist that illegals be forever barred from seeking citizenship. In his op-ed on immigration today at the Washington Times, he actually refers to them at one point as “undocumented citizens.”(!) When pressed on the issue in the Q&A after his speech, he said this:

So no, he won’t create a special path to citizenship to help move illegals quickly through the green-card process but there’s a path to citizenship through normal channels in the end. Then again, with the singular exception of Jeb Bush, whom no one believes is serious anyway, every prominent Republican politician I can think of supports a path to citizenship eventually. That’s my whole point: If you’re trying to build goodwill with Latinos, there has to be. But what about the rest of Paul’s plan? Quote:

The first part of my plan – border security – must be certified by Border Patrol and an Investigator General and then voted on by Congress to ensure it has been accomplished…

With this in place, I believe conservatives will accept what needs to come next, an issue that must be addressed: what becomes of the 12 million undocumented workers in the United States?

My plan is very simple and will include work visas for those who are here, who are willing to come forward and work…

After an Inspector General has verified that the border is secure after year one, the report must come back and be approved by Congress.

In year two, we could begin expanding probationary work visas to immigrants who are willing to work. I would have Congress vote each year for five years whether to approve or not approve a report on whether or not we are securing the border.

Byron York’s right that that’s a key difference with the Schumer/Rubio bill. The Senate bill would grant probationary legal status to illegals on the day the bill is signed into law; the path to a green card and eventual citizenship would, however, be contingent upon improvements in border security. Immigration hawks argue that that’s not good enough. Realistically, once someone has probationary legal status, there’ll be no political will to revoke it or to postpone the citizenship process indefinitely until border security has been tightened. Paul’s solution is to make that initial probationary legal status also contingent upon better border security. Illegals here get nothing until there’s real evidence that the border’s being enforced more comprehensively. (Paul has been talking about that for weeks, in fact, as a contrast to Rubio’s plan; I wrote about it on January 31.)

There’s just one hitch. Democrats will never agree to let Congress decide whether the border’s been sufficiently secured yet, especially with the GOP poised to gain seats in the Senate next year. The left wants llegals on the track to citizenship as quickly as possible, but if you make that track contingent upon border security, you risk letting a Republican Congress block it every year by voting that the border hasn’t been tightened quite enough yet. Although actually, I think the left’s fear there is overblown: As we get closer to 2016, the specter of alienating Latinos anew by consistently voting to delay citizenship for illegals would convince enough Republicans in Congress to join with Democrats in rubber-stamping border security to get the citizenship process moving. Paul’s bill is actually better politics for the GOP, arguably, because it lets them sound tougher on the border now, when conservatives are paying attention, while letting them go soft later when right-wing voters will be more forgiving of GOP caves that are aimed at winning the election.

One other footnote: He wants to modernize the visa system so that we can better track illegals who are here, but he opposes E-Verify because it “forc[es] businesses to become policemen.” That’s a concession to his libertarian base, many of whom support open borders and won’t like seeing him acting like a border hawk today. The least he can do for them is make sure that private enterprise isn’t being deputized by the state to carry out its regime of policing labor. Why a libertarian would necessarily favor more robust federal visa-tracking over E-Verify, though, I don’t know. Granted, without E-Verify illegals who lack probationary status have a better chance of finding employment, but on the other hand Paul’s scheme would likely require a bigger, more intrusive government agency to check up on illegal workers in lieu of letting employers do it. But then, let’s not get bogged down in the details. This isn’t meant as a viable plan for the Senate, as Rubio’s is, but as a political document aimed at showing grassroots conservatives that he’s tougher on the legalization process than Rubio and at showing independents and Latino voters that he’s compassionate enough towards immigrants to want them to stay and work here as long as they want. I’ll leave you with this: