POLITICS
03/19/2013 06:37 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Rand Paul Emphasizes Hard Work, Not Welfare, In Immigration Speech

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- who has increasingly tried to separate himself from the “GOP of old” -- was once again at odds with members of his own party Tuesday, bucking the argument that immigrants are abusing the nation’s welfare system.

“A lot of the anger and hatred is thinking, ‘Oh, immigrants are going on welfare,’” Paul told conservative radio pundit Mike Huckabee. “The fact of the matter is, most of them aren’t.”

Paul's emphasis on the hard work done by undocumented immigrants stands in contrast to views expressed by many of his Republican colleagues. Although undocumented immigrants can't receive public benefits, except in rare circumstances, there's a relatively common trope that many still do and are in the U.S. milking the system. It's one reason immigration reform can be a tough sell: when immigrants are painted as a financial drain on the country, hardliners can argue that reform is a bad decision for the economy.

Studies have shown, however, that immigrants actually help the economy. During a Tuesday morning speech, Paul made a point of emphasizing the hard work by Latino immigrants with whom he grew up.

"At a young age, I came to understand that it makes a difference whether you are a documented immigrant or an undocumented immigrant, that the existence was not easy for the undocumented but that opportunity in America somehow trumped even the poor living conditions and low pay," he said at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce legislative conference.

Later, he told reporters that because of their hard work, undocumented immigrants should not be considered a drain on welfare.

"Some people think everybody that's coming here is going to go onto welfare," he said. "Most people who come here from Mexico, even the very poor who have come from Mexico, are working because they don't have a choice."

Conversely, some Senate Republicans continue to advance the idea that immigrants are latching onto government assistance. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has charged the Obama administration in recent months with failing to implement laws intended to turn away immigrants who are likely to become dependent on welfare programs, or become a “public charge.”

“Virtually no one is being examined before they enter the country on whether or not they’ll ... immediately begin to depend on government welfare,” Sessions told Fox News in February. “So that’s a real serious problem and we find that [the administration is] not enforcing it whatsoever.”

Elise Foley contributed reporting.

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