Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) described immigrants as “the engine of economic vitality” during a speech at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco on Friday and called on his party to embrace comprehensive immigration reform.
“We have a history of allowing people to come in legally to embrace our values and pursue their dreams in a way that creates prosperity for all of us,” Bush said. “We need to find a path to legalized status for those who have come here and have languished in the shadows.”
The comments come as other GOP presidential hopefuls gather in Iowa for the Iowa Freedom Summit, an event hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), an avid opponent of allowing undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status.
Bush has long supported legalization and advocated for passage of the Senate’s reform bill, which included a path to citizenship. In his comments on Friday, he did not specifically endorse that measure or citizenship itself or describe whether “legal status” included citizenship.
The former Florida governor has gone back and forth on the issue.
In his book on the subject, “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” Bushargued that “those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship” but explained that people who do seek American citizenship “should have the choice of returning to their native countries and applying through normal immigration processes.”
Later, Bush backed away from that position, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace, “the path to citizenship is appropriate and I applaud the work of the senators and others in the Congress.” The comments represent a stark departure from Bush’s 1994 suggestion that undocumented immigrants should simply be deported.
During his keynote on Friday, Bush also criticized Washington lawmakers for acting like “academic and political hacks” with “hard-core ideology.”
“They’re basically Maytag repairmen,” he said. “Nothing gets done.” “It is time to challenge every aspect of how government works — how it taxes, how it regulates, how it spends — to open up economic opportunity for all.”