March 4, 2013— -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday he does not support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., a central provision of immigration reform plans being considered by Congress.
Bush has long chided the Republican Party to adopt immigration reform and improve its outreach to minority and immigrant voters. But he said that a path to citizenship would violate the rule of law, and instead is proposing giving a path to legal permanent residency to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.
"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 an interview on NBC's "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. Not to take away people's rights."
Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is promoting his new book titled "Immigration Wars" that he co-authored with conservative attorney Clint Bolick. It hits the shelves this week, and it will include concrete details on how they believe immigration reform should be handled.
The ex-governor's stance is notable because of his reputation as an immigration moderate within the GOP, especially during the 2012 campaign season when he criticized GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his opposition to immigration reform that legalized undocumented immigrants. As early as June of last year, Bush said he would be supportive of either a path to citizenship or a path to legal residency.
Now, Bush's position on a path to citizenship is to the right of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" Senate proposal, which has been endorsed by his former political mentee Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and several other Republican lawmakers.
The Senate's plan would offer temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who apply, pass a criminal background check, pay fees, and back taxes, and learn English. Those eligible immigrants would then be able to pursue a green card, and then full citizenship once certain border-security metrics are met along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Barack Obama's plan contains a more direct path to citizenship that is not specifically tied to a border security "trigger."
A path to citizenship has long been the number-one policy priority for immigrant-rights groups, who say that citizenship is necessary for immigrants to compete in society. The alternative, according to these groups, a population of second-class citizens.
But Bush aligned himself with other Republicans who say that a path to full citizenship is not necessary.
"Half the people in '86 that could have gotten amnesty 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 come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens."
He said that offering a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. could incentivize future waves of illegal immigration.
"I think there has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally," Bush said. "It is 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, we're going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country."
Despite the divisions over key issues like a path to citizenship, Bush sounded optimistic that Congress could pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
"This is the one place where cats and dogs seem to be getting along a little more," he said. "So I am optimistic there could be a consensus going forward on immigration."