Paul: GOP must 'evolve' on immigration

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that immigration reform hardliners in the Republican Party need to “evolve” on the issue.

Speaking to Bryan Fischer on the conservative Focal Point radio show, Paul argued that the GOP needs to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanic voters, and said immigration reform, if achieved in accordance with conservative principles, could be a step in that direction.

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“You can’t have open borders in a welfare state. We’ve got a pretty significant welfare state, so it’s not just about normalizing the 11 or 12 million here, it’s whether or not while you’re doing that another 11 or 12 million come in, and I think that will bankrupt the country,” Paul said. “So I am concerned, but I’m also open-minded enough to say that it is an issue that we do need to evolve on. But I’m not willing to be so much in adapting that I believe you allow people to come in without having a secure border and…letting people get to the front of the line.”

Paul’s twin concerns – a secure border and an exhaustive path to citizenship that doesn’t allow illegal immigrants to leap-frog those who have already applied to come here legally – are the foundation of the argument Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has pitched to allay the concerns of skeptical conservatives.

Rubio promised he would not support any legislation that granted an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship if it did not first secure the border and staunch the flow of future illegal migration.

Paul on Wednesday took that idea further, proposing a yearly review of border security, so that if certain metrics are not met, Congress could vote to suspend the “normalization” process. Paul said this was necessary because in the past Republicans have traded amnesty for border security, but never received what they asked for.

“I am for having a new approach and trying to do something positive,” Paul said. “But I agree with what conservatives have always said the security has to precede or be in conjunction and has to be reaffirmed.”

Paul also said illegal immigrants seeking citizenship should start in the queue behind those seeking work visas, not just those seeking green cards. Like Rubio, who said he would withdraw support from any immigration reform deal that extends federal healthcare benefits to provisionally legal U.S. residents, Paul said other government benefits were off the table.

“If there is a process of normalization, there will be no welfare,” he said.