The spat last week between The Associated Press and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the meaning of Paul’s words about immigration reform serves as an example of how complex issues can be reduced to petty squabbles about semantics.
The disagreement arose after Paul’s staff sent a copy Monday of the senator’s speech planned for Tuesday before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, hoping to build buzz ahead of the event. But unfortunately for Paul, the text of the speech contained a small political bombshell: the suggestion that immigrants who came to the United States illegally should be able to earn citizenship.
But after conservative pundits mocked his plan as “Randmesty,” Paul deviated from his prepared remarks at the last minute. Instead of using terms such as “amnesty” and “pathway to citizenship,” Paul talked around the issue, admitting “we aren’t going to deport” the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already here, and hinting that “prudence” necessitates “bringing these workers out of the shadows and into becoming taxpaying members of society.”
It may look like a duck and quack like a duck, but Paul insists his plan isn’t amnesty. Paul could have quickly ended the issue by releasing a simple statement saying whether illegal immigrants should be eligible for citizenship. But that would deny Paul a chance to deploy his cherished media-bashing schtick, so instead he cast doubt on AP reporter Erica Werner’s professionalism.
By doing so, Paul shifted attention away from his untenable, fence-straddling stance on immigration — and gave his reform plan a veneer of deniability.
The AP, to its credit, stood by its original story, only adding that there were discrepancies between Paul’s speech and the text his staff forwarded to reporters a day earlier. One hour later, Paul seemed to concede the issue altogether, telling the AP: “The whole debate on immigration is trapped in a couple of words: ‘pathway to citizenship’ and ‘amnesty.’ If we get trapped in these terms, either for or against, we’re going to get polarized.”
But Paul knows this isn’t about words; it’s about positions, and citizenship for illegal immigrants is an unpopular position among many in his party. That’s why Paul’s been so timid about discussing immigration in clear, unambiguous terms.
But leadership isn’t about telling followers what they want to hear. The truth is millions of undocumented immigrants are already here looking for work. They’re using our emergency services, public transit, hospitals and jails, whether we like it or not. A realistic, fair solution that lets them work legally — and pay taxes into local, state and federal treasuries — is something we should all agree on.