Run, Rand, run. Last week, a young woman advocating for immigration reform approached Rep. Steve King at an Iowa fundraiser. She asked him why he wanted to deport people like her, who were brought to the country illegally as children through no fault of their own. Though she and King engaged in a heated conversation, the scene-stealer was Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky), who was seated next to King. As soon as Paul heard the young woman identify herself as a “Dreamer,” he bolted from the table, leaving behind a half-eaten hamburger.

Paul’s libertarian outlook means that he is a champion of a smaller, stripped-down government. Yet a report by the Pew Center found that 75 percent of Hispanics prefer a big government that provides more services to a small one providing fewer services.

- Raúl A. Reyes

This episode shows that Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender, is literally unwilling to confront the issue of immigration head on. He talks a good game about making the GOP more inclusive to Latinos, yet his libertarian views are not in sync with the Hispanic mainstream. He also has a blind spot when it comes to civil rights issues.  

“I say everywhere I go that I am for immigration reform,” Paul told reporters in June. However, he voted against the Senate immigration bill that passed last year. Paul’s website states that he does not support “amnesty” and favors legal immigration and more border security. There is no mention of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, a key component of comprehensive reform. 

Lately Paul has been telling Republican audiences that the GOP needs to be more welcoming of Hispanics, especially on the immigration issue. “I think just showing up will help to improve people’s attitudes and openness toward us,” he said in April, “but you have to have something to say.” That glosses over Paul’s background as an immigration hard-liner. 

He supported SB 1070, Arizona’s infamous “papers, please” law. “We shouldn’t provide an easy route to citizenship,” he said in a 2010 TV interview. He once co-sponsored a measure to strip away the citizenship of U.S. children born to undocumented parents. So Paul may be moderating his message on immigration, but actions still speak louder than words. 

On other issues, Paul is out of step with most Latino voters. He is against the Affordable Care Act, which Latinos support at higher rates than the general public. He prefers to leave the question of same-sex marriage to the states, while Hispanics are increasingly in favor of gay marriage. Most significantly, Paul’s libertarian outlook means that he is a champion of a smaller, stripped down government. Yet a report by the Pew Center found that 75 percent of Hispanics prefer a big government that provides more services to a small one providing fewer services.

True, Paul has been a strong advocate for sentencing reform in the criminal justice system. He has rightly noted that “tough on crime” policies disproportionately impact African-American and Latinos. Meanwhile, Paul has expressed reservations about the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. While these two landmark pieces of legislation struck down discrimination and enabled Hispanics to move into the mainstream of society, Paul has stated that he doesn’t believe that the government has the right to force private businesses to comply with them. 

"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin,” he once wrote to a newspaper in his home state. These are troubling remarks coming from a presumptive presidential candidate.

It doesn’t help matters that Paul has associated with known racists. His social media director resigned after he was revealed to be a neo-Confederate activist, and his Senate campaign spokesman was let go after posting bigoted remarks online. Such unacceptable behavior raises legitimate questions about Paul’s judgment.      

Rand Paul has a long way to go before he can win over a majority of Hispanics. Latinos and other Americans deserve a leader who has the courage to face the issues  – and who believes in full civil rights for all. 

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.

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