'11 million undocumented in this country who need to come out'
HOUSTON – Accompanied by his famous parents, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush received an enthusiastic welcome Wednesday at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which made it clear he is the leading GOP contender for the Hispanic vote.
“Historically, President George W. Bush had it right on immigration, and I do believe that Jeb Bush’s personal (story) shows he has a strong affinity with Hispanics, understands the context of immigration reform,” the NHCLC’s president, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, told WND prior to Jeb Bush’s speech.
Rodriguez clarified, however, he was not endorsing Bush either personally or on behalf of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“I do believe Gov. Jeb Bush would be a better candidate to work with for the purpose of finding a solution to the immigration crisis,” he said, nevertheless.
Rodriguez said, however he “would not discard” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
“He is an evangelical with a strong Christian faith, and I have had discussions with Gov. Huckabee on this subject, and he is a very compassionate man,” Rodriguez said.
Huckabee is scheduled to be the group’s dinner speaker Wednesday evening.
“Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio, are the GOP presidential candidates that provide space for a discussion on immigration reform.”
Excluded from Rodriguez’s favorable comments were Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who emphasize border security as a precondition to establishing a path to citizenship in any comprehensive reform legislation.
‘Super honored to speak’
Jeb Bush began his speech to the more than 1,000 assembled Hispanic evangelical leaders speaking in Spanish.
“I am super honored to speak with you today, first, because you represent the new wave of hope for this country, and second, out of respect for speaking here today in the presence of my parents,” he said, according to a WND translation, referring to former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.
In the 25-minute speech, Bush told how he met his Mexican wife, Columba, and discussed the importance of his conversion to Catholicism. He avoided any mention of his support for the controversial Common Core education standards and addressed border security only in the context of passing comprehensive immigration reform.
“We should have a country in which it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you were born,” Bush told the evangelicals. “Every person in this country should have the right to rise up.
“Let me speak about immigration, because it is a key element of our country’s success,” he said. “We’re a nation of immigrants. This is not the time to abandon something that makes us special and unique. Because of immigration, America has the chance to become young and dynamic again, to be an emerging country again, to be of optimism, believing our future is better than our present.”
But, first, he said, “we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order.”
“That means controlling the border,” he said. “That means making legal immigration easier than illegal immigration.
“But it also means dealing with the 11 million undocumented in this country who need to come out of the shadows and receive earned legal status.”
As WND reported earlier Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, addressing the group Tuesday, singled out Bush from among the GOP presidential hopefuls as the candidate with the most favorable personal and family history on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.
“I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton for president, because, in the reality of politics, I can’t get elected to Congress as a Republican in the 4th Congressional District of Illinois,” Gutierrez said, responding to a question from WND.
But if Bush wins, he said, he is “going to need me if he wants to get comprehensive immigration reform passed through the Congress.”
“My support might just be the kiss of death for Jeb Bush when conservatives get wind that ‘radical, socialist Gutierrez’ might get together with Jeb Bush, because then there would be open borders in the U.S.,” Gutierrez quipped.
The congressman said he will work with Republicans to “get immigration reform.”
“When I worked with President George W. Bush on comprehensive immigration reform legislation, I applauded him,” the congressman continued.
Gutierrez recalled that George W. Bush sent his Commerce secretaries, first Donald Evans and then Carlos Gutierrez, along with secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to “roam the halls of Congress” and garner support for the immigration bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Gutierrez stressed that U.S. demographics strongly suggest no GOP presidential candidate has any chance of winning the White House in 2016 without getting more than the 22 percent of the Hispanic vote that Mitt Romney got in 2012.
“One million Latinos turn 18 every year and there’s nothing anybody can do about it,” he said. “The GOP can’t forget that 45 million of the 55 million Latinos in the United States are citizens. We vote and we sit in the pews of the nations churches with those who are not citizens, documented and undocumented alike, citizen children in the same families with undocumented parents. We all sit in church together.”
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, or NHCLC, represents an estimated 40,000 evangelical Christian churches in the U.S. This year, the organization has joined CONELA, a Latin American-based organization that serves more than 487,000 Latino churches worldwide.