Jeb Bush Bucks His Party On Immigration, And He’s Right

Many Republicans won't like Jeb Bush's recent comments about illegal immigration, but he's right.

Jeb Bush

In addition to discussing the possibility of running for President more openly than he had in the past, Jeb Bush also spent his time this past weekend talking about immigration, and what he said probably isn’t going to go over very well with the base of his party:

Jeb Bush, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said on Sunday that illegal immigrants who come to the United States to provide for their families are not committing a felony but an “act of love.”

In comments at odds with the views of many in his party, Bush, the son of the 41st president and brother of the 43rd, said of the divisive immigration issue: “I think we need to kind of get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place.

“I’m going to say this and it will be on tape and so be it,” Bush said in an interview with Fox News host Shannon Bream in an event at the Texas presidential library of his father, George H.W. Bush.

“The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally … and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony.

“It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.

Bush, 61, added: “I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

Bush makes a very good point here. While his fellow Republicans tend to denounce all illegal immigrants as criminals, Bush points out, correctly, that in most cases the people who are coming to this country illegally aren’t doing so because they want to break the law, but because they want a better life for themselves and their children. Many of them have done it in order to be reunited with family members. Whatever the reason, it seems harsh to refuse to recognize these facts given that they tend to point out the fact that it remains far too difficult for people to emigrate here legally to begin with. Indeed, one suspects that if many of the more restrictive provisions of our immigration laws were modified there’d be much less “illegal” immigration. Another relevant point, of course, is the fact that “illegal” immigration is hardly a new development in American history, the only thing that’s changed significantly is that the immigrants now tend to come from Latin America instead of Europe.

Statements like this aren’t really new for Bush, of course. He’s long been a leading voice for immigration reform inside the GOP and, while he was Governor of Florida, maintained strong approval ratings among the state’s Latino population notwithstanding the problems that his part has had with that demographic group in recent years. In both the run-up to and the aftermath of the 2012 Presidential election Bush, along with Marco Rubio who has long been a Bush political ally, was among the loudest voices warning the party that it was ignoring its problems with the Latino community at its peril. Bush has also pushed back against the general attitude of his party when it comes to immigration, which essentially seems to come down to making the border, specifically the southern border since Republicans don’t seem to be too concerned about Canadians, even more militarized than it has already become in recent years. As Reason’s Nick Gillespie notes, Bush’s position is generally correct:

If the GOP faithful cannot understand, empathize, and deal with the 12 million or so illegals in the country—except to tell them to get the hell out, build a wall that would have made Erich Honecker proud, and mandate a worker verification system that will be a nightmare on tech and constitutional grounds—they will forever write off the votes not simply of Latinos but most Americans. A 2013 Reason-Rupe Poll found that 70 percent of people favored letting illegals stay and get on a path to citizenship (55 percent), gain legal residency (4 percent), or become guest workers (11 percent). Of course they do: Even people who feel threatened by newcomers recognize that immigration isn’t simply inthe DNA of America, it is the DNA of America.

We’ve all heard the standard line: “I don’t mind immigration, it’s the illegal part of it I don’t like.” Each time a Republican says that without then explaining how they plan to expand legal immigration, you know that he is full of it on the immigration issue.

In fact, the Republicans are so full of it on this issue that they have come to embrace a nightmare mandatory program, E-Verify, that “turns work into a privilege and empowers the surveillance state.” This comes after complaining (rightly!) about Obamacare’s individual mandate and that law’s reach into people’s privacy.

At the same time, the Republicans have let a potent political issue to slip through their fingers.

That, of course, is typical for Republicans and we saw it unfold throughout 2013 as the Senate took up and ultimately passed an immigration reform package while the GOP controlled House of Representatives couldn’t even manage to get committee hearings scheduled on a proposal of its own, in no small part because they didn’t put forward any proposal at all. There has been some talk in recent months that we may yet see a push on immigration reform in the House, and there are certainly elements inside the GOP that are trying to make it happen. Ironically, this is an issue that seems to have united the business or “establishment” wing of the party and some elements of the evangelical community who have pushed for immigration reform much more in recent years than they have in the past. Given the fact that we’re heading into an election year, though, it seems unlikely that we’ll see anything of substance out of the House, at least not until well after the deadline for primary challenges has passed. If nothing is passed this year, then it seems unlikely that we’ll see anything in the two years prior to the 2016 elections either since both parties will want to keep the issue alive for their own self-interested electoral purposes.  In other words, the GOP will likely do nothing about immigration and then wake up the day after the 2016 election and wonder yet again what went wrong.

As for Bush, if he is serious about running for President then it’s interesting that he’s phrasing the immigration issue in this manner at this time. He’s a smart enough politician to know that his position on the issue is one that’s going to be problematic for the GOP base to begin with. Statements like this that defend in some sense the people that hard right consider no better than common criminals is certainly an interesting strategy, although I’m not sure where he’s going with it.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    He is right.
    Which means he doesn’t stand a chance in a party that is wrong on almost every single issue.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Bush, 61, added: “I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

    Actually, they will pay a price if the current Republican immigration proposal becomes the law – there will be a 13 year – THIRTEEN YEAR – path to citizenship, plus payments for significant fines and back taxes.

  3. Vast Variety says:

    I honestly don’t understand why we as a nation of immigrants would ever turn away someone who wanted to come here for a better life unless they had a criminal background in their home country.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @Vast Variety:
    For the very same reason that Republicans want to eliminate the social safety net…cut college aid…cut public education…cut infrastructure investment…cut investment in alternative energy…slash unemployment benefits…and keep people from getting health care. They have theirs…and now they want to pull up the ladder behind them.

  5. legion says:

    And just like Rubio, this position will keep him from ever getting anywhere near a primary victory, no matter how well it would position him for a general election. Watch carefully in the mid-term run-up to see if he jettisons this sanity for a total-xenophobia platform. That will tell you if he’s serious about running in ’16.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    His position on immigration is well-established…to established to simply jettison.
    More problematic is his position on taxes…also anathema to Republicans. He would be willing to compromise on a “Grand Bargain”. You saw how that went when Boehner tried it…he lost control of his caucus.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    I take back my comment.
    If Kristol is saying Bush won’t be the nominee…then Bush will be the nominee.
    Kristol is the perfect avatar for the Republican Party…wrong about absolutely everything.

  8. Woody says:

    The GOP will talk about immigration a lot, but will put forth absolutely zero actual policy this year.

    It’s a midterm where they hold several advantages, not least of which is the fact that Republicans trounce Democrats in turnout.

    They will not jeopardize their advantage by proposing policy (right or wrong) that splits their constituency.

  9. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    “That is why you fail.” — JMY

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I actually think he timed this about right. The Tea Party is a flop. They’ve failed to field viable primary candidates. They’ve weakened and once it penetrates their tiny little brains that they are about to lose the black man in the White House that is their true inspiration, they’ll weaken further still. The nuts still run the GOP asylum, but I think Big Money is winning out over Big Hate.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Maybe, maybe not…

    “I like the gentleman, but I think his comments on immigration are a little screwy,” said Mark Skoda, a Memphis-based talk radio host and the co-founder of the National Tea Party Federation. “It is this notion that the rule of law no longer applies because it is somehow not compassionate. We don’t need ‘compassionate conservatism.’ Conservatism is compassionate because it is about freedom and restoring individual liberty.”

    Keep in mind that the baggers are still funded and organized by the deep-pocket Koch’s.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve been rethinking my position that Bush would not run against Hillary. If he runs in ’20 or ’24 memory of his brother will have faded, but age will be an issue. If he runs against Hillary now, he faces probability of an embarrassing defeat. He has to make that tradeoff, and I haven’t felt he’d risk the defeat. This despite the fact that preparing to run for prez is what he’s been doing for a decade.

    However, right now he’s probably getting calls daily from people stroking his ego and offering to shower him with money. Stating this position on immigration is saying to these people, “Look, I’m into this immigration thing to deep too back out, and I don’t want to end up like Rubio. Are you going to promise me enough money to win the primaries carrying this boat anchor?”

    However, the thing that really convinces me Bush will run, and likely win the nomination, is that this morning Bill Kristol said Bush wouldn’t get the nomination. If Bill Kristol thinks Bush will lose, Bush is a shoe in.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: I remember proposing some time back that we institute some sort of forced retirement system for pundits to keep the same fifteen faces from hogging the talk-shows all the time. My suggestion that pundits be graded according to their accuracy in prediction and that the lowest quarter be sent to hermitages in Tibet to take vows of silence for five years.

    For Mr. Kristol, I think the vow should be for life.

  14. Rob in CT says:

    I’d amend this a bit.

    He’s only right to the extent that the winners compensate the losers. Study after study shows that immigration is a small net positive for us. But the distribution isn’t even. Large # of immigrants driving down wages in various sectors is great for high-level executives, good for the immigrants themselves (relative to prior circumnstances), middling for the average middle-class american, and strongly negative for workers in that sector as a whole. So, if this is to work out, the people who take the hit should get help… government policy taketh away, but another government policy giveth back.

    Which is to say he’s only right if we do quite a bit of redistribution. But of course his Party wants to do less than we already do.

    So no, I don’t actually think he’s right.

  15. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s not going to be too hard to paint ol’ sensible Jeb as a nut, though. First, he’s going to have to go far right in the primaries, and we know how well that worked for Romney. And just when he starts trying to claw his way back to the center it will be time to remind the American people that he’s the governor who decided that the state has the right to interfere in a family’s most personal decisions when he legally abducted the late Teri Schiavo.

  16. Kylopod says:

    Channeling Chris Rock….

    You know the worst thing about Repubs? Repubs always want credit for some sh** they’re supposed to do. A Repub will brag about some sh** a normal man just does. A Repub will say some sh** like, “I view immigrants as human beings.” You’re supposed to, you dumb motherf****! What kind of ignorant sh** is that? “I ain’t never shouted a racial epithet.” What do you want, a cookie? You’re not supposed to shout a racial epithet, you low-expectation-having motherf****!

  17. superdestroyer says:

    Jeb Bush is as visionless and shorts-sighted as his brother and father. He wrote a book about immigration that propose that since Americans are too lazy to be blue collar workers and too stupid to be high tech workers that Americans need to be replaced (demand driven immigration, increased autonomy). Jeb Bush seems to believe that he can alienate a large portion of the current Republican Party and they will still vote for him in a general election because they have no other choice.

    I suspect that if the Republicans are stupid enough to stick their hand into the Bush fire a third time, they will be burned so badly that it will make the McCain lose to President Obama mild in comparison.

  18. mantis says:


    Jeb Bush is as visionless and shorts-sighted as his brother and father.

    It’s true. He can’t see pants at all.

    He wrote a book about immigration that propose that since Americans are too lazy to be blue collar workers and too stupid to be high tech workers that Americans need to be replaced (demand driven immigration, increased autonomy).

    Somehow I doubt he said Americans need to be replaced.

    Hey, where’s the nonsense about single-party state? Play the hits, man!

  19. superdestroyer says:


    I wonder how many years it will be before George P. Bush states that the Republican Party has left him and he is now a Democrat. It is the only way that Jeb’s son is going to have a career in politics that goes Texas or last more than a few years. Since the Bush Clan only looks out for the Bush Clan, there is little to believe that they will be Repubilcans much longer if they want the next generation to have careers in politics.

  20. Mu says:

    Odd that the one position I personally disagree with is the one were JB actually is astonishingly forward looking. A decent immigration reform under a GOP president might be the last chance the GOP has to cling to relevance in the long run. Without it it will become the “aging white boomers” party, on a perpetual decline into the fringe.

  21. superdestroyer says:


    Under what model does putting 11 million or so poor Latinos on the path to citizenship and doubling the number of legal immigrants have the Republican Party. Has there been one study or analysis that shows that if the Republicans support amnesty and comprehensive immigraiton reform that it will affect the voting habits of Latinos or Asians in the U.S.

    How does having a higher unemployment rate, increasing the competition for existing jobs, and decreasing the quality of schools help get votes for Republicans?

  22. mantis says:


    I wonder how many years it will be before George P. Bush states that the Republican Party has left him and he is now a Democrat.

    Well, in the single-party future, he will have to. No other choice!

  23. al-Ameda says:


    I wonder how many years it will be before George P. Bush states that the Republican Party has left him and he is now a Democrat.

    and I wonder when he will leave Laura to go to Argentina to find the Republican Party he so loves?

  24. C. Clavin says:

    So you are saying Republucans are only interested in people who vote for Republicans.
    Good to know.

  25. bill says:

    @Vast Variety: or just wanted to milk the system, most don’t but some figure it out quickly.

    @C. Clavin: quid pro quo! if they were known to be potential conservative voters i don’t think you’d be showing them much love.

  26. C. Clavin says:

    Isn’t everyone a potential Republucan voter?
    I mean…the GOP is the party of freedom and liberty.
    Wait…no…I meant the party of stupid.

  27. Dividist says:

    Couldn’t agree with JB more.

    On every level, practical, political, moral. he is right on immigration.

    Choosing Sides in the Immigration “GOP Civil War” (Spoiler Alert – I’m with Will) and Jeb.

  28. mtnrunner2 says:

    I like that Bush said this, and that’s at least a good starting point.

    Although his statements aren’t exactly fire-breathing defenses of liberty, the difference lies in the fact that they imply a sensible context and a standard by which to judge laws. We don’t simply uphold laws *because they are laws*, we uphold GOOD laws because they defend liberty and protect us from harm.

    And someone coming to the US to better their life is not only something we don’t need protection from, it deserves praise.

  29. Paul Hooson says:

    My great grandfather had to escape the famine and poverty of his native Ireland, but had to become a Canadian citizen because of so much discrimination in the United States against the Irish where many cities had signs or city ordinances denying Irish immigrants the right to housing or a job and newspapers and magazines ran cartoons of Irish made to look like inhuman drunken monsters or criminals to further a climate of hate against the Irish. – It took the country a few years to settle down and roll back this prejudice and discrimination against the Irish who were treated worse than many African Americans were treated at the time. Many African Americans were elected to political offices by the post-Civil War Reconstruction era as Republicans for a time.

    Any common sense from any major candidate for president on the immigration issue is deeply appreciated these days. Anti-immigrant sentiments are as wrong today as they were over 100 years ago. My family well knows this fact.

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    the question is whether actually supporting and passing comprehensive immigration reform would help the Republican Party remain some level of relevance in politics. It is a claim that is heard all of the time and one repeated (without thinking) by Jeb Bush.

    Yet, I have not read of one analysis or study that shows how passing comprehensive immigration reform actually does anything positive for the Republican Party (outside of the cheap labor supporting oligarchs) or for conservative. How does eventually adding millions of generally poor voters who will automatically vote for Democrats and who will support higher taxes, bigger government, growing entitlements, and more regulations help conservatives. How does adding millions of citizens who will qualify for and support racial and ethnicity based government programs and entitlements help conservatives?

    At least some liberals and Democrats are honest enough to admit that comprehensive immigration reform will be a huge win for them. What is amazing is the number of Republicans who have convinced themselves that there is any benefit for opening the borders to the third world.

  31. superdestroyer says:


    There is somewhere between 100 and 300 million third world residents who want to come to the U.S. How many would you (or any progressive) keep out? How do progressives reconcile their desire to lower the impact of the U.S. on the global environment with their desire to open the borders to 100 million or more immigrants?

  32. C. Clavin says:


    I have not read of one analysis or study that shows how passing comprehensive immigration reform actually does anything positive for the Republican Party

    I know you can’t understand this…but governing is about “We the People”…all the people…not just “We, Our Voters”. Perhaps if Republicans were about something more than just naked power grabbing…then folks would vote for them.
    You put the cart before the horse in every single comment.
    Show people you are concerned about their problems and have policies that will help them and they will vote for you. Don’t wait for people to vote for you and then decide whether you want to help them or not. I know that’s advanced logic for you.
    Conservatism has a lot to offer. Republicanism…not so much. Fixing immigration, health care, marriage equality, the environment…those are all Conservative positions. They are not Republican positions. The only Republican positions are protecting the wealth of rich white folks and controlling the reproductive rights of women. Why would anyone vote for a Republican? It’s beyond me.

  33. Mu says:

    SD, I’m not sure that anything can save the GOP from becoming meaningless. But continuing being conceived as the “whites only” party will only hasten the demise.
    The democrats survived losing half their base in the South by reinventing themselves, somehow I don’t see that yet with the GOP.

  34. superdestroyer says:


    How does adding millions of third world immigrants who will automatically vote for the Democratic Party extend the shelf life of the Repubilcan Party? How does supporting policies that will increase taxes on the middle class, lower the quality of public schools, increase sprawl, and lower wages help the Republican Party survive or draw voters away from the Democrats.

    If people want higher taxes, want the schools to function as social welfare agencies, and want to decrease the size and pay of the private sector, they will always vote for Democrats. Competing with Democrats to be the big government supporters has hurt the Republicans in the past and will continue to hurt them in the future.

  35. Rob in CT says:

    The democrats survived losing half their base in the South by reinventing themselves, somehow I don’t see that yet with the GOP


    Parties are, in fact, capable of changing and attracting new voters as they lose others. It’s not easy and it takes decades, but it is doable.

    SD wants to double-down on the white resentment vote, and it sure looks like the GOP will continue on that path. So far, it’s sorta-kinda worked (especially in low-turnout elections when the Dems struggle to get their voters to show up). It will, at some point, probably stop working well enough, and they will have to switch their tactics.

    All of the arguments SD makes about Republicans becoming Democrat-lite are routinely made by lefties angry at the Democrats for being Republican-lite. While I sometimes sympathize with them because I agree on this or that issue, electorally they’re just plain wrong, as is SD.

    The reason for this is that even though lefties sometimes get really angry with the neoliberalism of the Dems, they usually recognize that the GOP is (from their perspective) far, far worse. Similarly, the base of the GOP sees the Dems are far, far worse than even a moderated GOP, and will likely fall in line. Most people vote LOTE.

    You don’t have to like it (I often don’t), but it’s reality.

  36. superdestroyer says:

    @Rob in CT:

    the coalition that voted for President Obama in 2012 was very similar to the coalition that voted for Walter Mondale in 1984. The biggest differences between the two elections is the turnout of non-whites and the varying growth of difference demographic groups. Ever political pundit who could count knew that if blacks and Latinos turned out at the same level as whites that the Republicans were dead. Now blacks are turning out at the same level as whites (so much for voter suppression) and Latinos are catching up.

    The Republicans were doomed to fade away by 2030 due to demographics. It was the incompetence of the Bush II Administration and the idiots in Congress who spend up the progress. There is no demographic group that the Republicans stand a chance of prying away from the Democrats. No matter how much the Republicans pander, the Democrats can pander even more. Thus, the future of politics is elections where the Democratic Primary is the real elections and different ethnic groups are fighting over government goodies. All one has to do is look at the fight between Democratic Asians and Democratic Latinos in the one party state of California to see the future.