WASHINGTON — In a speech before the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Senator Rand Paul detailed his position on immigration, including an implicit pathway to citizenship, contingent on border security, for illegal immigrants already in the country.
‘‘I think the conversation needs to start by acknowledging we aren’t going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants,’’ said Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. ‘‘If you wish to work, if you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.’’
Though Paul never used the word ‘‘citizenship’’ in his nearly 18-minute speech, he talked about expanding visas for high-tech workers and giving them priority, discussed issuing ‘‘special entrepreneurial visas,’’ and implied that illegal immigrants would have a path to citizenship that was contingent on securing America’s borders.
‘‘In order to bring conservatives to this cause, however, those who work for reform must understand that a real solution must ensure that our borders are secure,’’ he said. ‘‘We also must treat those who are already here with understanding and compassion, without also unduly rewarding them for coming illegally.’’
Paul said the Border Patrol and an investigator general would have to certify that the borders were secure, submitting a report to Congress. Congress would then need to vote on the matter before other parts of his immigration plan could proceed, he said.
Though a group of eight senators is working on legislation for an immigration overhaul that would be contingent on border security, Paul emphasized that his plan differed by specifically requiring a congressional vote on the security of the borders.
‘‘The first part of my plan — border security — must be certified by the Border Patrol and an investigator general and then a little different than the bipartisan plan, I think, it needs to come back to Congress and be voted on each year for several years,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been the big complaint of conservatives that when we normalized people back in 1986, we never got a good border and we got 11 million new people.’’
Paul, who is often mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has previously explained his views on an immigration overhaul, including in a February op-ed in The Washington Times, ‘‘From Illegals to Taxpayers: Make Path to Citizenship Conditioned on Border Security.’’
The op-ed, too, made clear that Paul would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants only after the borders were secured — and after a Government Accountability Office report on their state had been presented to, and voted on, by Congress.
‘‘After ensuring border security, I then would normalize the status of 11 million undocumented citizens so they can join the workforce and pay taxes,’’ Paul wrote. ‘‘I would normalize them at a rate of about 2 million per year.’’
Paul’s speech, which was peppered with what he described as ‘‘un poco Espanglish y un poco Tex Mex,’’ included stories about his German great-grandparents, who spoke little English when they immigrated to the United States, and references to and quotes from his favorite Spanish and Latin American writers, like Miguel de Unamuno, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda. (At one point, Paul read, in Spanish, the end of Neruda’s poem ‘‘Si Tu Me Olvidas’’ (“If You Forget Me”).
‘‘How can we not embrace such passion?’’ he said, to laughter. ‘‘How can we not want that culture to merge with and infuse the American spirit?’’
Paul’s speech came a day after the Republican National Committee released a report calling on the Republican Party to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. The report left vague just what such ‘‘comprehensive’’ reform would include.
‘‘Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution,’’ Paul said. ‘‘That’s why I’m here today, to begin that conversation and be part of the solution.’’
Paul also cast the question of whether or not to embrace both legal and illegal immigrants as one of political survival for Republicans.