Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the most respected voices in the Republican Party and a potential presidential contender, rejects the “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform favored by some members of his party in a forthcoming book.
In a Wall Street Journal column co-authored with conservative lawyer Clint Bolick, Bush writes that issuing more visas for high-skilled workers or giving legal status to immigrants illegally brought into the country as children is insufficient. Among the prominent Republicans who prefer a step-by-step process is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former Bush protégé and another potential presidential candidate.
“Congress should avoid such quick fixes and commit itself instead to comprehensive immigration reform,” writes Bush, whose brother, former President George W. Bush, tried and failed to pass such legislation in his second term.
The column is a preview of a book by Bush and Bolick to be published in March called "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.” Bush’s status in the GOP and the book’s release at the same time President Obama and Congress are taking up immigration reform means it will likely shape the debate in Washington and possibly provide political cover for wavering Republicans. Bush is scheduled to discuss the book March 6 at the National Press Club in Washington as part of a national book tour.
While it’s traditional for potential presidential candidates to publish policy prescriptions or memoirs before they launch campaigns, Bush’s book is not a clear sign that he’s running in 2016. The head of an educational think tank with a reputation as a policy wonk, Bush has long championed immigration reform. He's also a fluent Spanish speaker with a college degree in Latin American studies who serves on the national advisory committee of the Hispanic Leadership Network. As governor in 2004, he backed offering driver’s licenses to undocumented workers, a proposal that quickly fizzled in the Republican-controlled state legislature. That idea is still considered outside the political mainstream, but the Hispanic community’s overwhelming rejection of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 election is convincing an increasing number of Republicans that immigration reform is essential.
In another sign Bush is not set on a presidential campaign, advisers say he doesn’t plan to promote the book in Iowa and New Hampshire, which host the nation’s earliest primary contests. In addition to the stop in Washington, Bush’s book tour is expected to go through Florida, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, California, Ohio and Illinois.
In the newspaper column, Bush rejects the perception among many conservatives that “comprehensive" reform means “amnesty.” He is calling for better security along the Mexican border and makes an economic case for streamlined paths to citizenship for both high- and low-skilled workers. He also favors a “fair way” to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country that includes “consequences.”
“Despite a polarized polity, the country has a historic opportunity for bipartisan reform,” Bush writes. “It is time to seize the moment.”