Sen. Rand Paul endorses looser immigration rules, ‘path to citizenship’

Sen. Rand Paul used a high-profile speech to a group of Hispanic business leaders Tuesday to endorse a libertarian policy of work-permits for illegal immigrants, greater immigration of foreign laborers and professionals, plus wider use of Spanish.

The speech, which won him much favorable media coverage, included sections in Spanish, his recitation of a poem by Pablo Neruda, and an anecdote about his teenage work alongside Hispanic laborers in Texas.

However, the speech drew some criticism from conservative GOP activists, who said it was powered by a public relations strategy instead of a cold-eyed analysis of immigration’s impact on government growth, Americans’ wages and the GOP’s ballot-box results.

The speech will boost his media coverage from economically comfortable reporters who want the GOP to increase immigration of Democratic-leaning foreigners, said one conservative activist who opposes large-scale immigration. But the pandering will hurt him in the 2016 primaries if he runs against Sen Marco Rubio, another Tea Party-backed Republican who has endorsed a form of conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants, he said.

The speech was lauded by progressives and by advocates favoring large-scale immigration.

“Well done!” said a tweet from La Raza, the Hispanic ethnic lobby.

“I applaud and appreciate @SenRandPaul support for a path to citizenship,” said a tweet from Sen. Lindsey Graham, the leading GOP advocate for a conditional amnesty and greater immigration of foreign workers.

Throughout his speech, Paul identified himself with his audience of Hispanic business leaders.

“As a teenager [around 1980] I worked alongside immigrants mowing lawns and putting in landscaping around businesses … In school, everyone took Spanish. I sometimes wish I had paid more attention in class,” Paul said in his speech.

However, since the early 2000s, employment of teenagers has declined rapidly, and studies indicate this is partly because of competition from legal and illegal immigrants.

“The Republican Party has insisted for years that we stand for freedom and family values …The vast majority of Latino voters agree with us on these issues but Republicans have pushed them away with harsh rhetoric over immigration,” Paul insisted.

That’s a controversial claim. Extensive studies by Pew and other researchers show that three out of four Hispanics — aside from many Cuban-Americans and integrated Latino business owners — prefer a big government to a small, low-tax government.