“Those who are here, if they want to work, let’s find a place for them,” Paul said. “If they want to become citizens, I’m open to debate as to what we do to move forward.”
Paul sought to frame his speech in broad strokes and avoid the weeds of policy details, adding, “I’m a conservative Republican who says we need to move forward on the issue of immigration reform. That’s a big step forward.”
So does Paul back the bipartisan Senate outline and President Obama’s proposal, which would allow illegal immigrants to eventually earn citizenship? Still unclear. Paul wrote a column for The Washington Times last month that only adds to the confusion. “I share the goal of a working immigration system, and a new approach to allowing those here in our country who want to work and stay out of trouble to stay here,” he wrote. “Would I hope that when they become citizens, these new immigrants will remember Republicans who made this happen? Yes. But my support for immigration reform comes not from political expediency but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a key leader in the immigration talks and a potential rival to Paul in 2016, suggested there was no daylight between their positions in an interview Tuesday with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“Sen. Paul's speech it is a very good development,” he said. “We're not going to deport 12 million people, like Rand Paul said today. We're also not going to give blanket amnesty or special pathway to citizenship because it would be unfair to those who did it the right way. Finding that right balance is what we're working on.”
One area where Paul and Rubio clearly diverge is on E-Verify, the electronic database employers can use to verify citizenship before they hire. “I don’t like the idea of making every business owner a policeman,” he said. Paul also said he opposed the creation of a national ID card.
One of the most outspoken advocates for immigration reform, Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, said Paul’s speech showed how much Republican public opinion has changed on the issue.
“Rand Paul is a hot political property right now,” he said. “So where does he spend his newfound political capital? On immigration reform.... This speaks volumes about how far the debate on immigration reform and the GOP has come since the election.”