Rand Paul's Signaling Exercise on Immigration


Have you read today's big immigration speech by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)? Go ahead, give it a look.

It is above all a political and positioning document, more than it is a policy proposal. But on policy, as foreshadowed, Paul wants to A) expand legal immigration now, emphasizing high-skilled labor; B) mandate "certified" border security (as determined by the Border Patrol and approved annually by Congress; C) set up a "bipartisan panel" (shudder) to "determine number of visas per year"; D) "admit we are not going to deport the millions of people who are currently here illegally"; E) specifically reject "a national ID card or mandatory E-Verify" system (yay!); and F) offer current unauthorized residents a "probationary" type of visa, allowing them to continue living and working in the country, while otherwise moving to the end of the immigration line, whatever that means in practice. They would not, as in other bipartisan immigration reforms currently being contemplated, have to pay a big fine.

Paul is not a member of the two bipartisan groups of congresspeople currently trying to hammer out comprehensive immigration reform, so his proposal as it relates to the current debate should, at most, be seen as an attempt to influence events from the outside, preferably in a direction that's lighter on the more punitive, database-driven direction that those talks are inevitably heading.

In fact, if I was a member of one of those groups, I might find myself irritated by Paul's solipsistic framing, such as: "Immigration Reform will not occur until Conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation." Why, it's almost as if conservatives haven't been talking about immigration reform!

But the man is running for president, an exercise both in ego and policy-personalization, so it's no real surprise that Paul's speech was more concerned with style and signaling than substance. He quoted Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda (!), made Seinfeld references, name-dropped Jaime Escalante, spoke the worst Spanglish this side of Michael Bloomberg, attempted once again to dress up his more libertarian approach in the mantle of Ronald Reagan (going so far as nicknaming his approach "Trust but verify"), repeated his recent warnings that the Republican Party needed to adapt or die, and sounded the kinds of pro-immigrant notes sorely lacking in the last two GOP presidential nominating seasons. Excerpt:

But is he illegal? ||| Sodahead.com

Republicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to permanent minority status.

The Republican Party has insisted for years that we stand for freedom and family values. I am most proud of my party when it stands for both.

The vast majority of Latino voters agree with us on these issues but Republicans have pushed them away with harsh rhetoric over immigration. […]

That they have steadily drifted away from the GOP in each election says more about Republicans than it does about Hispanics. […]

Somewhere along the line Republicans have failed to understand and articulate that immigrants are an asset to America, not a liability.

More after the jump, including a welcome section on education reform:

For the American Dream to be achievable for all, we have to have an educational system that believes that all students have the capability to succeed.

Unfortunately, the education establishment seems to casually discard Latinos, blacks, and others into crummy schools with no hope.

I argue that the struggle for a good education is the civil rights issue of our day. […]

My dream is that we transform the education monopoly into a thriving, competitive environment where Hispanic students get to choose what school they attend and that no student is forgotten or ignored.

If nothing else, the exercise will complicate narratives that Paul and/or the Tea Party is reflexively hostile to immigrants, as evidenced by the fact that many journalists really really think so. 

Reason on immigration here, on Rand Paul here.