In a speech before a small gathering of supporters back in May 2009, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul elaborated on his proposal to build an underground electronic fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, framing it as a cost effective and even respectful way of stopping the flow of illegal immigrants.
In a speech in downtown Paducah, Kentucky, Paul pegged the cost of his quixotic idea at somewhere between $10 and 15 million dollars (a relative pittance when compared to other border-fence proposals, and likely far too rosy a projection). The benefits of an underground fence, he argued, were that it would not have the symbolism of a Berlin Wall-like structure and it would be considered less offensive to Hispanic voters who are already fleeing the country.
"Where I disagree, maybe with some people on the immigration issue, I don't like the symbolism of a 15 foot fence going the whole border. It's extraordinarily expensive, and it reminds me of the Berlin Wall which was built to keep people in and from fleeing to the west," Paul said. "I think you could actually put an electronic fence under the whole for border for $10 or $15 million, which sounds like a lot to us but that's peanuts. And you could probably have helicopter stations in maybe five different locations, and I think you could have any breach of the border could be stopped at any point and we send them back."
"Another thing we could do is that trade treaties with Mexico should not be approved if they're not going to take care of their border. If they're just going to be sending people across the border illegally, we don't approve any kind of trade favorability with Mexico. We make that a part of international negotiations. You won't find that from other candidates, I think. We have to do something. But am I absolutely opposed to immigration? No, there's probably a certain amount of immigrants that can come in and do work in our country."
The comments from Paul are some of the clearest yet on his underground electrical fence idea. The Senate candidate has listed the proposal on his website for some time now but with little fanfare. The Huffington Post reported on the policy plank Thursday after the Paul campaign turned down several request for additional information. A reader of the site sent video of the comments Paul made back in May 2009.
All told, the position Paul takes puts him rather at odds with the rest of the Republican Party. Indeed, when asked about the idea (though not told who had proposed it) National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) assumed it was a joke. A far more common proposal within the GOP tent is to merely build a fence along the border. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for one, has latched on to such a proposal in hopes of saving his seat from a primary challenger.
Paul is in agreement with McCain about the need to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. He too objects to forms of amnesty. But he differs with respect to the tactics for achieving that objective. Putting up an actual fence, he said, would be offensive to Hispanic voters. And the GOP can't afford to lose a bloc of voters with which it's already struggling.
"We don't have a large Hispanic voting bloc," Paul said. "Republicans have gotten in a problem by vilifying the Hispanic vote, and so there's zero of it now, so we have to find a way to believe in the rule of law, believe in border control, and at the same time not vilify that people that come or some that are here. And I'm not for granting them amnesty, either. Do you send 17 million back? I don't know how you do that possibly. But the first thing you have to do is secure the border against unlimited immigration."