A recent report reveals Republican presidential hopeful and brother of former president George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, backed a path to legalized citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2009.
Bush, who has not yet announced his intention to run in 2016, is one of the most forward-looking Republicans concerning the issue of immigration reform. However, he still needs to appeal to a Republican base wary of anything that may hint at “amnesty,” in their eyes.
Bush has treaded carefully, phrasing his support for reform as one that includes “earned” legal status. However, Buzzfeed News uncovered a 2009 letter in which the presidential hopeful openly favors “a program of earned legalization that offers an opportunity for many illegal immigrants to earn the right to remain in America.”
At the time, Bush was one of two chairs in a bipartisan task force with the Council on Foreign Relations. Their letter was addressed to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and outlined their plan for immigration reform, which included the above statement.
“But the Task Force is opposed to amnesty; instead, we favor a scheme that allows many illegal immigrants to earn the right to live in this country lawfully and to start on the path to permanent residence and citizenship,” the letter further explained.
The letter also expressed support for the DREAM Act, which it said was not amnesty, and continued to call on the federal government and Congress to devise a way for the undocumented immigrants to become legal residents and citizens.
Bush, since then, has not openly favored a path to citizenship but rather an “earned legal status,” which requires an undocumented immigrant to meet certain criteria. This includes paying a fine and not receiving government assistance.
“We have the ability, because of immigration, to be an emerging country again, to be full of optimism. … But we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order,” he told the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in May 1.
Bush has defended his views on the earn path on Fox News, telling Megyn Kelly: “There’s got to be a point where we fix this system so that legal immigration is easier than illegal immigration.”
When Kelly told him the GOP base may not take his immigration stance in kind, Bush did not agree.
“I don’t know that. I’ve been traveling over the last three months, and I get a sense that a lot of people can be persuaded, to be honest with you,” he said.
In response to Buzzfeed News about the 2009 letter, a spokesperson for the former Florida governor said:
“Governor Bush believes our immigration system is broken and unsustainable. He has made it clear that he supports comprehensive reform solutions that will secure the border, reform the system to prioritize the nation’s economic needs and provide a pathway to legal status for those here currently that requires these individuals to pay fines, perform community service, pay taxes, learn English and commit no substantial crimes.”