Jeb Bush Doubles Down on Pro-Immigrant Stance

The 2016 hopeful said 11 million undocumented immigrants deserve legal status.


Gage Skidmore

In a speech yesterday to a friendly audience, presumptive 2016 candidate Jeb Bush (R–Fla.) reiterated that he thinks the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally ought to be given the opportunity to stay. Reports the Huffington Post:

In tone and substance, Bush stands out among the many Republicans lining up for the GOP's next presidential primary, where conservatives who oppose an immigration overhaul often hold outsized influence. As he moves toward a presidential campaign, the brother and son of former presidents has not backed away from his defense of immigrants in the country illegally and a policy that would allow them to attain legal status under certain conditions. 

"We're a nation of immigrants," Bush said at the National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference that brought several hundred Hispanic evangelical leaders to Houston this week. "This is not the time to abandon something that makes us special and unique."

A successful immigration overhaul is more than simply strengthening the border, Bush said, referring to "11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status." He said such immigrants should be required to pay taxes, work and not receive government benefits.

Many political observers view Bush's support for immigration reform as a black mark on his record that will hurt him with base conservatives as he vies for the Republican nomination this year and next.

But others have noted that a lack of support among Hispanics will severely hamper the GOP's ability to take back the White House in 2016. Pew Research found that 71 percent of Hispanic voters went for President Barack Obama three years ago, compared to just 27 percent who cast ballots for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate who famously championed "self-deportation" as a strategy for dealing with illegals.

Shortly thereafter, a post mortem of the 2012 election from the Republican National Committee came to the following conclusion:

If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. …

We are not a policy committee, but…we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.

Bush is clearly betting he can convince his party that a gentler stance on immigration will be good for it in the long-term. I've dinged him for backtracking on religious liberty on the campaign trail, but credit where it's due: While the rest of the Republican presidential field drones on about the need for a more secure border, and as two in three Republican voters still favor stopping the flow of illegals into the country and deporting the ones who are already here (per a recent poll from CNN), the former governor of Florida and husband to a Mexican immigrant isn't backing down.

CORRECTION: Two out of three GOP voters supported deportation in a February CNN/ORC survey.