- - Monday, February 11, 2013

I’m 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 United States 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.

As a matter of both national security and immigration policy, though, 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. 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 would be assessed at the end of one year by an investigator general from the Government 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 are modernizing our system of issuing and tracking visas, we cannot take on the task of adding more people to our system.

After ensuring border security, I then would normalize the status of 11 million undocumented citizens so they can join the work force 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. 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. Theirs would be 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 10 years of back payroll taxes. I would be willing to forgo the fines and back taxes in exchange for a longer and significant 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 10 years. They just value staying in America — even with the pitfalls of being undocumented — more than returning to Mexico or Central America for 10 years.

To those who complain that allowing anyone to stay without returning to Mexico 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 who want to work and stay out of trouble to stay here in our country. I will not repeat the mistakes of the past, however, when vague promises were made and not kept.

Do I hope that when they become citizens, these new immigrants will remember Republicans who made this happen? Yes. Still, my support for immigration reform comes not from political expediency, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Sen. Rand Paul is a Kentucky Republican.

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