(CNN) – Rand Paul said Tuesday it's critical for Republicans to broaden their message on immigration to the Latino community if the party is going to have a chance at gaining support from the politically imperative group in future elections.
"We're not just the party of deportation. We got to get beyond deportation to get to the rest of the issues," the senator from Kentucky said at a Latino media forum in Washington.
Paul, a potential 2016 contender, has been open about his presidential ambitions.
This year, Paul has taken his libertarian-leaning message to longtime Democratic strongholds, pushing for a more inclusive Republican Party in the wake of President Obama's 2012 re-election victory over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Seventy-one percent of Latinos voted for Obama in the last election, compared to 27% for Romney - a lower percentage than Republican nominees received in the previous three elections. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States, making up 16% of the nation's population and, in 2012, the group made up 10% of the electorate, hitting the double-digits for the first time ever.
Paul laid out a two-pronged approach for the GOP to attract Latino voters - "One, you have to show up. And then secondly, you have to have something to say."
"I think that what's happened is that there is not the perception of empathy from the Republican Party, that we care about where they're coming from and we care about what their problems are," he said. "Until we get to that point, they're not going to listen to any of the next message."
Despite his calls for Republicans to reach out to Latino voters and work on immigration issues, Paul opposed a bipartisan bill on immigration reform that passed the Senate last year. At the forum, Paul said he voted against the bill because it still makes it illegal for workers with legal visas to switch jobs.
Republicans have been critical of the White House's immigration policy. A 2012 decision by the Obama administration to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children if they meet certain requirements earned praise from many Latino groups, but drew outrage from some Republicans who said the position amounts to amnesty.
Still, Obama's administration has come under fire from activists who criticize the President as "deporter in chief" for overseeing a rise in deportations.
Last month, Obama ordered Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson to conduct a review of enforcement policies to find better ways of administering current immigration law.
House Speaker John Boehner signaled immigration reform was unlikely to happen this year, given the divide in the GOP-controlled House over how to deal with some 11 million undocumented workers as well as general distrust among Republicans of Obama to enforce existing immigration laws.
Beyond immigration, Paul argued that his party needs to push back against some perceptions that Republican policies are focused solely on helping wealthy Americans.
"If you go into the African-American community or into the Latino community, they think Republicans are a bunch of rich white people," he said. "But it's not only just a race or ethnic base, it's also sort of working class. You go to the working class, they think, 'Oh conservatives are just a bunch of rich people. They don't care about people like me.'"
Paul said Democrats' group-oriented political tactics have trumped the GOP in picking up Latino and African-American votes. But, he argued, Democrats have taken those votes granted, providing an opportunity for Republicans to reach out to the historically liberal voting blocs.
"I think the Democrats have also taken the votes for granted, particularly the African-American vote. They just say, 'It's ours. We don't even have to do anything to get that vote,'" he said.
Tuesday's forum, held at the Newseum in Washington marked the launch of MRC Latino, the first-ever Spanish-language media watchdog. It was sponsored by conservative groups Media Research Center and American Principles Project.