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Rand Paul endorses immigrant path to citizenship

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm •  Published: March 19, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Tuesday that illegal immigrants should be allowed to become U.S. taxpayers and ultimately get a shot at citizenship, a significant step for the Tea Party favorite amid growing Republican acceptance of the idea.

"Let's start that conversation by acknowledging we aren't going to deport" the millions already here, the potential 2016 presidential candidate told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "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."

It was the latest sign that the Republican Party is moving to broaden its appeal to politically influential Latinos and other ethnic minorities after significant election losses last fall. Paul spoke a day after a Republican National Committee report called on the GOP to support comprehensive reform, though without specifying whether it should include a pathway to citizenship, which is decried by some conservatives as amnesty.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators is nearing agreement on sweeping legislation to overhaul the nation's immigration policy, an effort that could get a boost from Paul's stance.

The Kentucky Republican said for him to support such an approach, a stronger border must come first, and Congress must agree that border security has improved. The path to citizenship he envisions would come with other conditions, too, that would make it long and difficult for illegal immigrants to travel.

"Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation and to be part of the solution," Paul said.

Underscoring the political risks conservative Republicans face in embracing citizenship for illegal immigrants, Paul never used the word "citizenship" in his warmly received 17-minute speech, and aides sought to emphasize that his focus is on border security and on getting illegal immigrants into a probationary legal worker status.

From there, according to his approach, they would have the opportunity after some time to get green cards, the permanent resident visas whose holders become eligible after five years to obtain citizenship.

Paul's speech was peppered with Spanish phrases from his youth in Texas, references to his immigrant great-grandparents and praise for Latino culture. He said his party must adopt a new face toward Hispanics and conservatives must be part of it.

For Paul, there are political overtones to his newly articulated stance, since he's viewed as a potential presidential candidate and Hispanics are an increasingly important part of the electorate. Latino voters overwhelmingly backed President Barack Obama last year, helping seal his re-election, and Paul said the GOP needs to reverse that trend or risk "permanent minority status."

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