5 Republicans Who've Had an Immigration Conversion

The GOP is shifting on immigration. Here's who's leading the way.

ByABC News
March 21, 2013, 4:42 PM

March 23, 2013— -- intro: Not too long ago, a central part of the Republican playbook was to adopt a get-tough stance toward immigration.

The enforcement-only position was considered a surefire way to get through a GOP primary race, at both the state and national level. Consider that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, ran campaign ads in 2010 demanding that the federal government "complete the danged fence." Of course, he's not alone when it comes to shifting gears. Here are five others who've had an immigration conversion.

quicklist: 1title: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)text: During his 2010 run for Senate, Paul came out against offering birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, which is granted under the U.S. Constitution.

"We shouldn't provide an easy route to citizenship," Paul said during an interview with Russia Today. "We're the only country that I know that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen. And I think that should stop."

This week, Paul not only said he would reconsider his past stance on birthright citizenship, he also outlined his own immigration reform plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and eventually earn citizenship. Although he refused to say his plan contains a "path to citizenship," since the term is politically loaded.

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quicklist: 2title: The Republican National Committeetext: During its national convention in August 2012, the Republican National Committee adopted a platform that backed a guest-worker program, but endorsed Romney's self-deportation policy and immigration crackdown laws in states like Arizona and Alabama.

"We will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas," the platform read.

After the election, the party commissioned an election "autopsy" report that recommended that Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform since the party's past positions have alienated Hispanic voters.

"We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," says the report, which was released this week. "If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

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quicklist: 3title: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)text: Rubio launched an upstart campaign in the 2010 Florida Republican Senate primary against then-Gov. Charlie Crist. In multiple debates, Rubio attacked Crist for voicing support for the 2007 immigration reform effort and came out against granting a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

"He would have voted for the McCain plan," Rubio said. "I think that plan is wrong, and the reason I think it's wrong is that if you grant amnesty, as the governor proposes that we do, in any form, whether it's back of the line or so forth, you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America."

In a later debate, Rubio said that undocumented immigrants should have to first return to their countries of origin and then return if they want to become U.S. citizens. "Earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty," he said.

Though immigration was not a major campaign issue, Rubio eventually prevailed over Crist. In 2012, Rubio began to soften his stance when he announced he was working on an alternative to the DREAM Act that would have granted legal status to certain undocumented immigrants.

That plan never came to fruition, but Rubio is now a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators negotiating an immigration reform bill. Their statement of principles released in late January contains an earned path to citizenship.

"I thought about that issue a lot and [went] back and forth on it before I signed on to my principles and I just concluded that it's not good for the country in the long term to have millions and millions of people who are forever prohibited from becoming citizens," Rubio recently told reporters.

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quicklist: 4title: Sean Hannitytext: Hannity and other conservative talkers vocally opposed the last immigration reform effort in 2007 and their staunch opposition helped sink the bill.

But just days after the election, Hannity reversed course and came out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

"We've got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether," he said last November on his popular radio show. "It's simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don't say you've got to go home.

"And that is a position that I've evolved on," Hannity added. "Because, you know what, it's got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it's first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, and it's done."

Hannity doesn't have a vote in Congress, but his change of tune could help give conservative Republicans political cover to support a final bill.

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quicklist: 5title: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)text:The story of Mike Coffman's immigration conversion is a case study in the rising influence of Hispanic voters. Coffman was first elected in the House in 2008 to replace Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a well-known immigration hardliner. The freshman congressman subsequently adopted many of Tancredo's positions, like opposition to the DREAM Act and support for English-only laws.

But when Coffman's district was redrawn before the 2012 election to include thousands more Hispanic voters, the congressman decided to change his tune. He came out in favor of granting legal status to undocumented immigrants and citizenship to their children.

"My district dramatically changed," Coffman said in an interview with Politico. "In the district I had until last month, there wasn't a significant Hispanic population, and with the population I had, immigration wasn't a significant issue. In the district I have now, there is a significant Hispanic population. And meeting with those people really put a face on it."

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