In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce today Rand Paul came out in support of comprehensive immigration reform. The Kentucky Republican is clearly beginning his long trek to the 2016 election, but if he wants to win, he will have to adjust more than just his rhetoric.
A good amount of what Paul said was cringe-worthy. Like when he told the audience “If you wish to work, if you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.” Gee, Rand Paul your benevolence really knows no bounds. He went onto say that “Growing up in Texas I never met a Latino who wasn't working.” The speech is riddled with gentle nods to stereotypes concerning Latinos. His language often sounded condescending as he stood there attempting to appropriate some Latino culture in a desperate attempt to appeal to his audience.
Paul spoke of his love for Latino culture and how he wished he had paid attention more during Spanish class. He even sprinkled in some Spanish for good measure. He even admitted that, “In our zeal for border control, we have sometimes obscured our respect and admiration for immigrants and their contribution to America.” Which is a really nice way of putting his past statements about border control. When Rand Paul was running as a Tea Party candidate he was in favor of an underground electrified fence and called it “cost effective and humane.” One of the best parts about the fence, according to then-candidate Paul, is that it wouldn’t have the negative symbolism associated with it like the Berlin wall did. A true pioneer of immigrant rights.
Mr. Paul’s pro-immigrant stance is something of a recent phenomena. In January of 2011 he sought to amend the Constitution to end birthright U.S. citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants.
Rand Paul failed to make one mention of the word citizenship in his speech and it isn't because he forgot. Paul does not want to be seen as identifying with a pathway to citizenship in any way, but an Associated Press report published hours before his speech, did just that. Paul’s camp has spent much of the day fighting back hard against the accusation that he supports amnesty or a pathway to citizenship. A spokeswomen for Paul said “What his plan is extending to them is a quicker path to normalization, not citizenship and being able to to stay and work.” A Rand Paul adviser also pointed out that his plan “doesn’t make it any easier to attain citizenship than current laws.”
Paul believes undocumented citizens “should be allowed to become U.S. taxpayers and ultimately get a shot at citizenship.” A plan that says "First pay taxes, then we swear, you will get a shot at citizenship... maybe...at some point..." might be a hard sell. Still, Paul’s apparent softening on the issue is important as he signaled to other Republicans to join the discussion around immigration reform. The Republican National Committee came out in support of comprehensive immigration reform on Monday.
Rand Paul thinks that the Republican party has more in common with Latino voters than the Democratic party does, but the polls don’t necessarily agree with him. Latino voters also favored President Obama on foreign policy and women’s issues. Paul has to understand that it’s going to take a lot more than one speech to repair the damage years of vitriolic language has done.
Is Rand Paul’s speech a watershed moment for immigration reform? No. It is Rand Paul playing the role of likely-presidential candidate perfectly as he distances himself from his more radical Tea Party past. He is quickly becoming the darling of the Republican party (sorry Paul Ryan) who just announced today that he will speaking at the Iowa Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa. This will likely be the beginning of Rand Paul's outreach to Latino voters, expect a full endorsement of a pathway to citizenship sometime around July 2015.