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Sen. Rand Paul: Trust but verify on immigration reform

Feb 8, 2013

I am in favor of immigration reform.  I am also wary of reforms granted now for a promise of border security later.  In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a deal that made just such a promise, yet we are still waiting for the border security that never came.  Conservatives are also still waiting for the promised three dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in tax hikes.  Fool me once ... So, it is understandable conservatives should insist that any immigration reform incorporate the principle of trust but verify.

In that vein, I approach these efforts in good faith. I will advance both immigration reform and verifiable border security.  Under my plan for comprehensive reform the US would begin with prioritizing Visas for immigrants with advanced degrees, the so-called STEM Visas and an immediate expansion of the work Visa program. These reforms would happen immediately.

But, as a matter of both national security and immigration policy, it is absolutely essential that we both secure our border and modernize our visa system so we know who comes and who goes on travel, student and other temporary visas. And it is vital all other reforms be conditioned on this goal being met.

Border Security, including drones, satellite, and physical barriers, vigilant deportation of criminals and increased patrols would begin immediately and be assessed at the end of one year by an investigator general from the General Accountability Office.  Most importantly, and in contrast with any other plan out there, my plan will insist that report be presented to Congress for a vote.  If, and only if Congress agreed that border security was progressing, then more reforms would ensue. If we can't secure our border, and if we cannot prove we can modernize our system of issuing and tracking visas, we cannot take on the task of adding more people to our system.

After ensuring border security, then I would normalize the status of the 11 million undocumented citizens so they can join the workforce and pay taxes.  I would normalize them at a rate of about 2 million per year.   I would start with Dream Act kids, children brought here illegally as minors.  Normalization would get them a temporary Visa but would not put them ahead of anyone already waiting to enter the country.  These undocumented persons would now be documented but they would still have to wait in line like everyone else. But their path to permanent legal status would be no faster than those currently waiting in line.

There is no reason why a great country like ours wouldn't want to keep those like Jonathan Chavez, who came here as a small child from Peru and has a 4.0 at the University of Arkansas.

After the year ended, Congress would vote again to continue or not continue the process based on the report concerning progress in securing the border. At any point the process can be stopped if Congress does not certify the border is secure. Gradually, the undocumented persons would immigrate to the United States, internal immigration as they would not be asked to return home.  These immigrants would not be given special privileges except that they would not have to leave the country.  Undocumented immigrants would have a deadline to apply for this waiver.  The waiver would not be an ongoing beacon to more illegal immigrants to come.

The gang of eight wants back taxes and fines.  Most of these undocumented immigrants are poor and may not be able to ever pay ten years of back payroll taxes.  I would be willing to forego the fines and back taxes in exchange for a longer and significant time period before these folks are eligible to enter into the green card line.

Currently, undocumented immigrants have a pathway to citizenship.  They can leave the United States and enter legally in about ten years.   They just value staying in America, even with the pitfalls of being undocumented, more than returning to Mexico or Central America for ten years.

To those who complain that if anyone is allowed to stay without returning to Mexico that it amounts to amnesty.  I say: What we have now is de facto amnesty.  No undocumented immigrants are being sent home and no one is seriously advocating rounding up and sending home 11 million people.  Immigration reform begins the process of bringing these folks out of the shadows and making American taxpayers out of them.

I share the goal of a working immigration system, and a new approach to allowing those here in our country who want to work and stay out of trouble to stay here. But I will not repeat the mistakes of the past when vague promises were made and not kept. Would I hope that when they become citizens, these new immigrants will remember Republicans who made this happen?  Yes.  But my support for immigration reform comes not from political expediency but because it's the right thing to do.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first weekly column by Sen. Rand Paul. It will appear regularly on washingtontimes.com and in the pages of The Washington Times

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