Today, tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., became the latest prominent Republican to confuse the immigration conversation by avoiding specific language on citizenship — perhaps by design.

Paul lent his growing political weight to the issue with a speech widely interpreted as endorsing a pathway to citizenship. But he did so without making clear what that path would look like, or by even using the words “citizen” or “citizenship” – and of course steering far clear of any hint of a word like “amnesty.”…

“They’re really trying to find the sweet spot. It’s hard for them – they’ve moved a huge distance in a short time,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, which has frequently criticized lawmakers for standing in the way of a path to citizenship.

“Republicans are trying to find a place where they’re pro-Latino, but not attacked from the right. It’s a hard place to find,” Sharry said.


The Associated Press is standing by its report that Sen. Rand Paul intended to back a path to citizenship in his speech Tuesday to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, despite the fact that he did not do so, and despite claims from advisers that the AP’s story is wrong.

“AP stands by its story. In a copy of his prepared speech given to AP by his office Monday night, Sen. Paul made clear that illegal immigrants would have a path towards probationary legal status and then towards a green card, which allows people to eventually apply to become U.S. citizens,” Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said in a statement sent to POLITICO.

“In the speech he delivered Tuesday, he omitted that point,” she continued. “After the speech, however, Paul again confirmed, while speaking to reporters, that under his plan, illegal immigrants would ultimately be able to apply for citizenship after a long and complex process.”


Senator Rand Paul clarified today that he was not opposed to an eventual pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“The immigration debate has been trapped and it’s been polarized by two terms: ‘path to citizenship’ and ‘amnesty,’” Paul told reporters in a conference call this afternoon. “So everybody who doesn’t want anything to move forward calls every proposal that somebody else wants ‘pathway to citizenship’ or ‘you’re granting amnesty.’ Can’t we have reform and just not call them by names that discourage the progress from going forward?”…

Paul was uneasy with the idea of harsh financial penalties for illegal immigrants. “If you had to pay back all your back payroll taxes and you’ve been working here for ten years, that would be thousands and thousands of dollars . . . so to get your work visa, I wouldn’t have any kind of big penalty like that,” he remarked. “If you’re going to get in the other line for citizenship, if they’re going to make it real easy, like you get right into the green-card line, then maybe you have to have pay penalties.”

Instead, Paul would prefer that penalty “be just the slowness to the process, not the money, because I think it would be prohibitive for a lot of people to come up with a large fine.”


Senator Paul doesn’t like the language used to describe amnesty…

This is hilarious. “Path to citizenship” is itself a euphemism, one of many dreamed up to avoid the A-word, in the wake of focus groups conducted in 2001 by the National Council of La Raza to advise the Mexican government on how to push amnesty. The fact that they need to keep dreaming up new euphemisms once everyone understands what the old ones stand for should be a sign that the underlying policy is the problem, not the labels attached to it.


As a rule (generalizations are always dangerous) paleoconservatives tend to be populist and protectionist (think Pat Buchanan). They worry a lot about immigration and stress border security. Conversely, libertarians tend to be less nationalistic, instead viewing themselves as citizens of the world.

As advocates of free markets and trade, libertarians tend to believe immigration laws should “match the reality of a dynamic society and labor market.”

Based on today’s news — on the immigration issue, at least — it’s clear Paul’s libertarian side won out.


The key elements of Rand Paul’s immigration plan: a) securing the border, b) expanded high-skill, entrepreneur visas with total numbers determined by a bipartisan panel, c) no national ID card or mandatory E-Verify, and d) a route to legalization for illegal immigrants.

I guess that last point is particularly controversial because of Paul’s Tea Party support. But what really struck me is that aside from rejecting both the national ID card “forcing businesses to become policemen,” the Paul plan doesn’t seem to be very libertarian. While he wants more immigration, his path to legalization is more restrictionist than Marco Rubio’s path to citizenship for illegals…

Paul’s outspoken libertarian beliefs are really what make him interesting as a national political figure. His immigration plan seems like a missed opportunity to advance the argument.


Worse, unlike the Gang of Ocho amnesty plan endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Paul would force Republicans to play the role border-security-bad-guys every year. The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York reports, “Under his proposal, the border would have to be verified secure by some government agency and then — this is a key step for Paul — voted on by Congress on a yearly basis.”

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out how this would turn out. Every year a majority of Republicans would vote to say the border was not secure and those who came to the country illegally should not continue down the path to citizenship. And every year every Democrat and a minority of Republicans would vote the opposite, allowing those who came illegally to advance down that path… until of course they are all sworn in as Democratic voters.

Paul’s plan would do nothing to endear the Republican party to immigrant communities, would do nothing to secure the border, and would only incentivize new waves of illegal immigrants to come to the U.S. and wait for their special, one-time-only “path to citizenship.”


In his speech, Paul made the now-standard case for more border security and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants: “If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.” He also made the well-worn argument that Republicans are permanent losers if they don’t win more Hispanic votes. Like others, he sees Hispanics as natural Republicans but for the immigration issue.

But all of the polling data suggest otherwise. The Pew Research Center notes, “Latinos have often been characterized as more socially conservative than most Americans. On some issues, such as abortion, that’s true. But on others, such as acceptance of homosexuality, it is not. When it comes to their own assessments of their political views, Latinos, more so than the general public, say their views are liberal.” It’s telling that when asked if they backed President Obama’s position that “health insurance organizations should be required to cover contraception,” 68 percent of Hispanics said yes; only 11 percent said no…

It’s true that George W. Bush did well with Hispanics and maybe — maybe — the Republicans can get some of that mojo back even as they still ignore Bush himself. But Hispanics are younger and bluer than they were in 2000. Younger Cuban-Americans are trending Democratic. It’s not at all clear Bush would do as well today. After all, Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform and no benefit accrued to Republicans. John McCain was the author of immigration reform and he only got 31 percent of Hispanics compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. It’s true that new polling shows Hispanics say they’re more likely to be open to pro-pathway candidates. Still, maybe Paul will become a Hispanic icon. But that seems as likely as a run on Spanish editions of Atlas Shrugged.