Sen. Rand Paul said he cannot support a bipartisan Senate immigration overhaul bill in its current form, but he is open to discussions with the bill’s supporters on what it would take to win him over.
“My suggestion to those in the Senate who are in charge of the bill is come to people like me who want to vote for it, but who are not quite there yet and say to us, ‘What would it take to bring you along?’” the Kentucky Republican said after addressing a meeting of two conservative Latino groups.
He cited the way Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, sought to be courted for his support. That resulted in an increased number of visas for high-skilled workers, “which made the bill better,” Paul said after speaking to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
While Hatch supported the bill coming out of the Judiciary Committee, before he votes for the bill on the floor, he said, he still wants it to include amendments requiring payment of back taxes and mandating that newly legalized immigrants who get green cards wait five years before beginning to access benefits under the new health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).
Paul said he has concerns over caps on visas for agriculture workers. The Senate bill would provide up to 337,000 visas for farm workers over three years, which could be determined by the Agriculture secretary.
“A lot of people come to this country to pick crops and we need them to pick crops,” Paul said. “But if we set a cap that is below what the market asks for, then we will have another generation of people coming in here illegally. So I think what we need to do is make sure that we don’t set the cap such that we don’t have enough workers.”
Paul also wants the bill to specify what the border security plan will do to secure the border. Currently, the bill only charges the Department of Homeland Security with developing and deploying border and fencing plans.
“Instead of saying to the administration, ‘Okay, you guys fix the border’ we should just write it into the legislation and do it,” Paul said.
Paul also plans to offer an amendment that would require making the path to citizenship in the bill conditional on Congress voting on whether the border is secure, requiring completion of a border fence in five years and establishing protections to prevent the federal government from establishing a national identification card system for citizens.
“After an inspector general has verified that the border is secure, after year one the report comes back and is voted on by Congress, this is where my plan is different from anything else out there,” Paul said. “I say we begin documenting the workers, but that documentation is conditional on the border being secure.” He said only a limited number of people would be legalized each year as the Congress votes on the report. Depending on the vote, more people would be legalized. “It’s going to take awhile,” Paul said.
His “Trust but Verify” amendment would also require Congress to write and enforce a border security blueprint rather than relying on DHS to come up with a plan. The amendment would provide new national security safeguards to track the holders of student visas and those provided asylum and refugee status.
“This is the real part of my amendment that makes the bill stronger: We vote each year on whether the border is becoming more secure,” Paul said.
But one aide to a Democratic member of the bipartisan group of senators who drafted the bill said it is not likely that those members will reach out to Paul to get his support.
“In theory, Sen. Paul’s support would be great to have,” the aide said. “But there is little in what he has offered to show that he wants to support the bill. His vote would not be crucial to have.”
Paul said many of the Republicans who are currently opposed to an immigration overhaul supported it in 1986 and need to be reassured that things will be different this time.
“They feel like they were tricked,” Paul said, adding that taking discretion away from the DHS and voting each year would go a long way toward providing needed assurances that the law would be effectively enforced.
Some supporters of an immigration rewrite are wary of Paul’s amendment because they argue that it would endanger the path to citizenship by leaving it to the vagaries of politics.
Paul said he understood that concern but added, “I don’t want to vote yes and then find out in 10 years everybody is pointing their finger at me and saying, ‘There are 10 million more people here, why did you vote for that crummy bill?’”
While Paul said that he would support the bill if his amendment is adopted, he also said he is open to discussions with the bill’s authors.
“There is no reason why this bill can’t be made better,” Paul said. “If this is not about politics, if this is truly about passing immigration reform and making our system better, what they ought to do is come to people like me, who are open to it, and say, ‘What can we do to work with you?’ So far I haven’t gotten that. We’ll see.”
Paul also said he had problems with the E-Verify provision. Under the bill, all employers would be required to use the employment verification system — known as E-Verify — to check that job applicants are lawful for employment.
Paul said he thinks it is onerous to businesses and could result in more hiring of white workers as business look to avoid the problem.
“I don’t think we should force businesses to become policemen,” Paul said. “I’m a minority in that and it may be something I have to live with in the bill.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.