Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he would support a comprehensive immigration bill if senators accept his amendment to increase Congressional oversight over border security.
Speaking at a gathering of conservative Latino groups, Paul made the case that his proposal, called "Trust but Verify," would make the sweeping legislation more palatable to Republicans who are hesitant to endorse the bill that would ultimately provide a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants.
"The bill is not there yet in the Senate," Paul said at the event sponsored by the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "If you want it to happen, you have to bridge the Senate and the House and bring them together. I'm in between where the Senate is and the House is. I'm not yet ready to vote on the Senate bill unless they're ready to listen to those that say, 'Let's make the border secure.'"
The remarks marked the second major address Paul has delivered on immigration reform at a time when leaders of the Republican Party are trying to broaden its appeal to the fast-growing Hispanic and Asian communities. Paul, a tea party champion whose support of immigration reform could help win over other conservatives, said he's ready to work with the bipartisan Senate group that authored the legislation in hopes of finding common ground.
"They ought to come to people like me who are open to it and say, 'What can we do to work with you?'" Paul told reporters after the event. "So far I haven’t gotten that."
Paul's amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement specific border security measures, including hundreds of miles of additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and provide a report to Congress each year on its progress.
Then Congress would vote annually as to whether the agency had met its goals. Each year, another group of illegal immigrants would earn legal work visas if the metrics are met, Paul said.
"Conservatives are wary about amnesty," Paul told the mostly Latino audience, using the term Republicans use for granting legal status to undocumented workers. "My plan does not grant amnesty or move people to the front of the line. The solution is not amnesty or deportation. It's a middle ground that you might call probation."
The Senate bill would allow illegal immigrants to earn legal permanent residence, known as a green card, after 10 years and citizenship three years after that if they pay fines and taxes and do not commit crimes. Though he said he would endorse a bill that includes his amendment, Paul declined to specifically endorse a special path to citizenship such as the one in the Senate bill.
Paul said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to earn legal status and work visas then apply for citizenship through existing channels, which could take longer.
Democrats and immigration advocates have said they do not support amendments that would delay or block illegal immigrants from gaining legal status. Paul's proposal would give Congress the authority each year to block the path if a majority does not agree that the border is becoming more secure.
Asked if his amendment would make the process too political, Paul replied: "What policy isn't subject to the vagaries of politics? ... I do not want to vote yes, and then ten years later people are pointing the finger at me because 10 million more people are here illegally."