Bush: Illegal immigration an "act of love," not a felony

“I’m going to say this, and it’ll be on tape,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told an audience at his father’s presidential library this weekend, adding with a shrug, “So be it.” Asked about immigration policy at the forum, Bush responded that the US has to implement a system to find illegal immigrants and ask them to leave, along with better border controls, but that we should not overreact to illegal immigration when it occurs. It’s “an act of love,” Bush argued, “not a felony”:

On immigration, he said that many of those who illegally come to the United States do so out of an “act of love” for their families and should be treated differently than people who illegally cross U.S. borders or overstay visas. He said that a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate last year made “a good effort” at proposing ways to ensure that people overstaying visas leave the country.

“A great country ought to know where those folks are and politely ask them to leave,” he said, adding later that properly targeting people who overstay visas “would restore people’s confidence” in the nation’s immigration system.

But most people who illegally enter the United States do so “because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table,” Bush said. “And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, 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. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that 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.”

The proposal last year did make a good effort at finding a middle ground. The problem wasn’t the bill as much as it was who it trusted to enforce it. The problem for those supporting a staged system of comprehensive immigration reform is the Obama administration, which has proven its disregard for statutory law in ObamaCare — the bill it promoted — especially when it comes to statutory deadlines and enforcement. If we can’t trust this White House to stick with deadlines for mandates it really wants, how can we trust it to stick with the phased-in approach to normalization based on objective border- and visa-security metrics, even if those involve Congressional approval? After all, the employer mandates and IRS penalties were hard-wired into the ObamaCare statute, and Obama had no problem using his phone and his pen to ignore those.

Republicans aren’t going to get border and visa reform without coming up with ways to normalize those who have lived in the US for a significant period of time, and Democrats won’t get the latter without the former — unless Obama is still President when reform passes. That’s the issue even for those who support a compromise. The GOP trusted Democrats in 1986 when there was a lot more reason to do so, and got stiffed on the border and visa reforms. They’re not going to offer that level of trust with an executive branch that has demonstrated its untrustworthiness repeatedly over the last four years on ObamaCare, and Barack Obama’s declared ambitions to govern through EOs and regulation while bypassing Congress.

Bush says he will decide on whether to run for President by the end of the year, which means that … he’s just like everyone else in that regard. Whether he chooses to run depends on whether he can try running a different kind of campaign:

In a rambling answer that suggested he has given serious thought to the prospects of running for a job once held by his father and brother, Bush said he would decide whether to run for president by the end of this year. He appeared to bemoan the thought of having to spend time attending political cattle calls in early-primary states, suggesting that some candidates might devote too much time to questions such as, “How am I going to get to win the Muscatine Pork Roast straw poll, or something like that.”

Bush said he ultimately would base his decision on whether a candidate can “run with a hopeful, optimistic message, hopefully with enough detail to give people a sense that it’s not just idle words and not get back into the vortex of the mud fight.”

Good luck on that score.  The last innovator in a presidential primary was Rudy Giuliani, who thought he could skip over some of the traditional “here and now” states to win big in Bush’s Florida backyard, and that … didn’t work out so well.