Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday afternoon that he has not, in fact, endorsed a faster path to citizenship, despite many reports Tuesday morning that he had.
Many outlets, including the Washington Post, had reported Paul would back or did back a path to citizenship in his speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The reports date back to Monday evening, when the Associated Press obtained an advance copy of Paul's remarks.
Paul clarified in an interview with Post Politics that he is not calling for an expedited path to citizenship, but that he would make it so people don't have to return to their home counties before applying.
"I didn’t use the word citizenship at all this morning," Paul 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."
In addition to not requiring illegal immigrants to return to their home countries to apply for citizenship, Paul also said on a later conference call that he's not a "stickler" for making them pay penalties.
Even though Paul would clearly make it easier to become a citizen, he said he would rather not label it a "path to citizenship," because using that phrases means everyone "closes their ears" to the rest of the argument.
"I think the whole debate on immigration is trapped in a couple of words: path to citizenship and amnesty," he said. "Can’t we just have reform and not refer to them by names?"
Paul's advisers say there is little difference between the current law and what Paul is proposing, at least when it comes to citizenship.
"They would get into the back of the line and get no special privileges to do so," said one adviser, who wasn't 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."
At the root of the confusion appears to be the difference between legal status and citizenship. In addition, there seem to be differing views of what constitutes a "path to citizenship."
The comprehensive immigration reform plan proposed by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who like Paul is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, does include a clear path to citizenship, and Rubio has embraced that label.
"The main proposal I am putting forward is Trust but Verify," Paul told Post Politics. "It says that we have to vote in Congress on whether the border is secure. That’s the main difference in what I’m saying and the Gang of Eight. But the gang of eight has a lot of things I may well support."