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UPDATE: Tea Party Senator Rand Paul Embraces Legal Status For Undocumented Immigrants

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"UPDATE: Tea Party Senator Rand Paul Embraces Legal Status For Undocumented Immigrants"

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In the latest sign that comprehensive immigration reform has unprecedented popular and political support, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) endorsed on Tuesday a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

The Tea Party favorite is presenting his own plan for reform, and departs from the Senate gang of eight’s plan by opposing the expansion of E-Verify — an error-prone system used by employers to check the legal status of workers. That would be “forcing businesses to become policemen,” Paul said.

His emphasis instead is on making citizenship contingent on meeting certain benchmarks for border security. Since 2007, the security on the border has greatly improved as border crossings are at a 40-year low and the vast majority of the border meets one of Homeland Security’s highest standards of security.

Paul’s plan creates an even longer road to citizenship, beyond the decade proposed by the Senate gang of eight. In year two, immigrants would receive temporary work visas, though Border Patrol, an inspector general and Congress would need to sign off on an improved border situation before other reforms move forward.

“If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you,” Paul said, according to the Associated Press.

Four months ago, Mitt Romney’s immigration policy was to suggest “self-deportation.” The conversation is at a different point now — Paul acknowledged “we aren’t going to deport” the millions here — showing how fringe the anti-immigrant Republican wing has become.

Update

Rand Paul’s advisers claim the Associated Press report is false, and the senator does not back a path to citizenship. His office said in a statement, “He does not mention ‘path to citizenship’ in his speech at all.” An adviser told the Washington Post, “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.”

The headline has been updated.

Update

This afternoon CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Paul to clarify his position, and the senator admitted he in fact supports an eventual path to citizenship: “It gets you in the line to enter the country legally to become a citizen like everybody else who wants to come from around the world to be a citizen.”

BLITZER: In other words you are not ruling out but supporting eventually after several steps are taken that these 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants will eventually if they do all the right things be allowed to become United States citizens.

PAUL: Interestingly yes, but at the same time not proposing something new.

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