Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday he no longer supports a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
Instead, he said during an interview with NBC’s “The Today Show” that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to become legal residents after meeting certain requirements, including paying back taxes and a fine.
“Our proposal is a proposal that looks forward, and if we want to create an immigration policy that’s going to work, we can’t continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration,” Bush said during his interview on “The Today Show”. “I think it is important that there is a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place, I think, to be in that sense.”
Jeb Bush: ‘Many people don’t want to be citizens’
When asked during Monday’s interview why people should support his proposal, Bush recalled that half of the people who could’ve applied for citizenship under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 didn’t apply.
“Many people don’t want to be citizens of our country,” he said. “They want to come here. They want to work hard. They want to provide for their families. Some of them want to go home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens.”
He added, “I think there has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law. If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.”
Bush also appeared on “The Today Show” to promote his new book titled “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” which hits bookshelves on Tuesday. In it, he shares his thoughts on what should be included in an immigration reform and warns Republicans against “extinction” if they continue to alienate Hispanics.
Bush’s new position on immigration puts him at odds with fellow Floridian Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is part of the “Gang of Eight” senators drafting a bipartisan immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. Both Florida Republicans are rumored to run for president in 2016.
Jeb Bush shocks immigration reform advocates
For years, Bush has pressed members of his own party to tone down their hardline stance on immigration and support an immigration reform in order to make inroads with Latino voters. He has also stated numerous times that he backs a path to citizenship. Most recently, he wrote a blog published in The Wall Street Journal in which he stated that “both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants” should be put on a path to citizenship.
That is why many immigration reform advocates were surprised to hear on Monday that the former Florida governor is withdrawing his support for a path to citizenship.
Among the advocates was Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. He stated that Bush now joins other Republicans who oppose allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens despite the party’s rebranding efforts and the increasing number of Republicans who are coming out in support of an immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
“At a time when voters are looking for steady, principled leaders and Republicans are supporting citizenship in greater numbers, this should be Jeb Bush’s moment,” Sharry stated. “Yet his disturbing flip-flop on immigration citizenship and tack to the right ahead of a potential presidential primary suggests that he’s misread the moment.”
“By endorsing the failed concept of a permanent underclass for a mostly Latino group of workers, Bush will put a ceiling on potential Latino voter support,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gaby Pacheco, a Florida dreamer and a nationally known immigrant rights advocate, said she believes Bush is being misunderstood. Pacheco told VOXXI that since 2004, she has had conversations with Bush about immigration, adding that she sees him as a strong advocate for immigration reform.
“He’s been very understanding of the immigration issue, so I don’t think he means what we are understanding and seeing on media reports,” she said. “Rather, I think he is trying to get more conservatives to understand that it wouldn’t be a direct path to citizenship. It would be a long process that could take years.”