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Paul Embracing Role as 'Conduit' to Try to Forge Immigration Agreement

WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he would support an immigration bill if senators accept his amendments to the legislation, but will not vote on the immigration reform package as it stands because of the need for tougher provisions on border security.

Paul, who is considered a swing vote on immigration reform, referred to himself a few days ago as the “conduit” between conservatives in the House who oppose immigration reform and his Senate counterparts in favor of it.

“I am the conduit between conservatives in the House who don’t want a lot of these things and more moderate people in the Senate who do want these things,” Paul said on Fox News Sunday. “They’re going to have to come to me and they’re going to have to work with me to make the bill stronger if they want me to vote for it.”

Paul was among the majority of senators who voted Tuesday to move the immigration bill to debate. He said the Senate bill “is not there yet” but he is open to discussions with the bill’s supporters on what it would take to win his support.

“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?’” Paul told reporters Wednesday after an event organized by the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

The Kentucky Republican plans to introduce a set of amendments intended to make the plan more appealing to those on the other side of Capitol Hill. Paul’s proposal, which he plans to file next week, aims to create a specific plan to secure the border.

“If you want this to happen, you’ve got to bridge the Senate and the House,” he said during the event. “I’m sort of in between where the Senate and House is, but not yet ready to vote for the Senate bill unless they’re willing to listen to people who say let’s make the border secure.”

Paul said that this proposal, called “Trust but Verify,” would make the comprehensive legislation more palatable to Republicans. Paul’s set of amendments makes immigration reform contingent upon an annual vote by Congress judging whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making progress on border security.

“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.

The plan requires completion of a border fence within five years and protection against the federal government establishing a national identification card system for citizens.

Paul has advocated in the past for an end to calls for a national ID, such as that proposed by the REAL ID Act. The Senate immigration proposal would require all employers to provide information about potential hires into a federal online system to confirm that they can legally work in the United States. This, according to Paul, goes too far and he thinks there are other ideas erring on the side of individual privacy while still strengthening border security.

Beyond blocking the REAL ID program, Paul’s amendment would require Congress to write and enforce a border security blueprint rather than relying on bureaucracies, such as the DHS, to elaborate a plan.

Paul, who told the story of how his great-grandparents peddled vegetables after arriving as immigrants from Germany over a century ago, also said one of the problems he has with the current proposal is that it sets a cap on agriculture workers, which the bill limits to 337,000 visas over three years.

“As we continue to debate immigration in Congress this week, I think sometimes the human factor gets lost. When discussing the issue, I think it’s important to remember that we’re talking about people, not just policy,” Paul said. “We’re not talking about criminals; we’re talking about immigrant workers caught up in a failed government visa program.”

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 84-15 to send the immigration bill to the floor for debate. The bill, crafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators, creates a 13-year path to citizenship for most of America’s undocumented immigrants. That path would include paying fines and back taxes and other measures.

“I’m all for immigration reform. But I don’t want to vote ‘yes’ and then find out in 10 years that everybody is pointing a finger at me saying, ‘There’s 10 million more people here, why did you vote for that crummy bill?’” Paul said.

An amendment reintroduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday evening, however, could jeopardize the passage of the bill. Leahy’s proposal would allow Americans in long-term, same-sex marriages to sponsor their foreign partners for permanent residency. The Vermont Democrat had withdrawn the measure after several Democrats said they would vote against the amendment to preserve the bill. Republicans in the Gang of Eight had also threatened to oppose the group’s bill if Democrats approved Leahy’s measure.

When asked about the amendment, Paul said he has not thought it through.

“I think sometimes these cultural issues divide us more than bring us together so I think there’s some danger that if we get involved in issues that really divide us, it doesn’t help to pass the bill,” Paul told reporters today.