“They would get into the back of the line and get no special privileges to do so,” said the adviser, who was not authorized to comment publicly. “What his plan is extending to them is a quicker path to normalization, not citizenship, and being able to stay, work and pay taxes legally.”
Later Tuesday, Paul attempted to clarify his position on the citizenship question. “I didn’t use the word citizenship at all this morning,” he said. “Basically what I want to do is to expand the worker visa program, have border security and then as far as how people become citizens, there already is a process for how people become citizens. The main difference is I wouldn’t have people be forced to go home. You’d just get in line. But you get in the same line everyone is in.”
Accepting some kind of legal status for nearly all of those now living in the country illegally is becoming an increasingly common position within the GOP, with most debate centering around the question of when and how those newly legalized residents might seek citizenship.
That represents a near-complete turnaround for a party whose presidential nominee just last year advocated policies that would make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they would chose to “self-deport.”
Increasingly isolated are those voices that say allowing immigrants to remain in the country would represent an unacceptable “amnesty.”
Recalling his childhood growing up in Texas and speaking several times in Spanish, Paul told attendees at Tuesday’s breakfast that changing the party’s position is a political imperative for the GOP.
“Republicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to being in a permanent minority status,” he said.
“Republicans have been losing both the respect and votes of a group of people who already identify with many of our beliefs in family, faith and conservative values. Hispanics should be a natural and sizable part of the Republican base,” he said. “But they have steadily drifted away from the GOP in each election. I think this says more about Republicans than it does about Hispanics.”
Even so, significant elements of the party’s base remain opposed, and passage of immigration legislation — particularly in the GOP-held House — is far from certain.
In a speech just before Paul’s, Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the Republicans’ second-in-command in the Senate, called for fixing what he said is a broken immigration system. But he acknowledged that the issue remains “tremendously controversial” on Capitol Hill and did not endorse specific prescriptions for change other than aiming to attract more “job creators” to migrate to the United States.
Still, advocates believe a broad bipartisan vote in the Senate on the issue could serve to pressure the House. Support from Paul would be especially useful. Just last weekend, he won a straw poll as the favored presidential candidate of attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) would not comment specifically on Paul’s immigration speech, or on the report released Monday by GOP leaders that called for comprehensive immigration reform. But he said the House would continue working on the issue in the coming months.
The speaker reminded reporters that he met last week with GOP members of a bipartisan immigration working group in the House that he said has come up with “a pretty responsible solution” for tackling the complex issues surrounding immigration.
“This is just the beginning of the process,” Boehner said at a morning news conference. “A lot of education needs to be done, because more than half of our members have never dealt with the issue of immigration reform, both on the legal side and on the illegal side.”
Members of his leadership team have held several “listening sessions” with GOP lawmakers to discuss immigration further, Boehner said. “I think you’re going to see more forums to bring our members up to speed on the literally dozens and dozens of issues involved in immigration reform,” he added.
Ed O’Keefe and Aaron Blake contributed to this story.
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