Paul’s position is especially significant because a number of other Republicans have been debating whether their party should endorse allowing people who broke U.S. immigration laws to remain in the country without fear of deportation.
He made his comments a day after the Republican National Committee released a somber autopsy of the GOP’s November election losses. It called for the party to embrace and champion an overhaul of the immigration system as its only hope to appeal to a growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
Paul outlined his own principles for an overhaul in a speech that elaborated on a proposal he made first in a Washington Times column in February.
The Kentucky senator outlined a path to legalization that would be more demanding than the principles advanced by a bipartisan group of senators who aim to introduce legislation in April. That group includes another likely 2016 contender and possible Paul rival, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Paul also called for expanding legal immigration — not a universally held position in the Republican Party. Some of its members believe that allowing more legal immigration will make it harder for Americans to find jobs.
Paul said he sought to turn illegal immigrants into taxpayers, which could ultimately lead to their becoming citizens. Despite early reports that he would endorse a pathway to citizenship in the speech, however, he did not specifically address the citizenship issue.
That is key because Republicans have been vigorously debating among themselves whether full citizenship should eventually be available to those who came to the United States illegally.
Paul said he would want Congress to be involved in certifying that border security has improved sufficiently to open the legalization path, a requirement that many immigrant advocates are sure to oppose as unnecessarily injecting politics into the process.
“Some may object to this,” he acknowledged. “But if we don’t, I don’t think we’ll get conservatives on board.”
He suggested that within two years, illegal immigrants should be able to seek temporary worker visas that would allow them to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
Many news outlets, including The Washington Post, had reported that Paul would back a “path to citizenship” in his speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Those reports started circulating Monday evening, when the Associated Press obtained an advance copy of Paul’s remarks.