(MCT) WASHINGTON — As Republican Jeb Bush appeared to back away from supporting citizenship for illegal immigrants on Monday, top Republican senators working on the issue distanced themselves from his comments.
Bush, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, indicated he would prefer that the estimated 11 million people living in this country illegally be given permanent legal status, rather than a pathway to citizenship — which has been the long-standing goal of the immigrant community. Senators are seriously considering such a citizenship measure in a bipartisan effort that President Barack Obama supports.
“Many people don’t want to be citizens of our country,” Bush, the former governor of Florida, said on “Today.” “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 become citizens.
“There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally,” Bush said. “It’s 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, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants in this country.”
Bush is making several public appearances this week, including at the National Press Club in Washington and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California, to promote his new book, “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow Florida Republican and a member of the Senate’s bipartisan working group, said, “People of good will can have different views.”
The citizenship provision is “an issue I thought about,” Rubio told reporters. “After weighing both sides, I just kind of concluded every country that’s done this — that’s had millions of people living within it that are permanently barred from applying for citizenship — it hasn’t worked out very well for them.”
Rubio added that although he had exchanged emails congratulating Bush on the book, the two men had not had a chance to discuss “why he’s adopted this new position.”
Bush, the son of the former President George H.W. Bush, has long been a party leader on immigration issues. During an interview last year with Charlie Rose, he acknowledged that his position “does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives.”
Under the proposals being considered by the bipartisan senators’ group, people in the U.S. illegally could have a pathway to citizenship once the borders were secured, and once they had applied for legal status and paid fines — a process that could take years. Immigrant advocacy groups fear a legal-status-only approach would create a permanent second-class of immigrants.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another member of the group, said Bush’s shift would not alter the group’s plans.
“I respect his views; he’s one of the finest and outstanding individuals — particularly on the issue of immigration. We are proceeding on the principle that once we have effective control of the border that that would establish a path to citizenship,” McCain said.
“I’ll let him explain his position,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another group member. “It’s just not one I think is politically good or substantively good. I just think the best way to fix this is to fix it in a fashion you don’t have a problem 20 years from now. You earn the arduous path to citizenship for those who want to seek it. I think that’s the best solution for the country.”
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