Uncommon courage: Jeb Bush finally weighs in on the border crisis

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, long a vocal Republican proponent of reforming the nation’s immigration system, has been oddly silent while an immigration crisis erupted on America’s southern border.

On Thursday, along with Goldwater Institute Vice President Clint Bolick in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Bush finally weighed in with this thoughts on the matter. In that op-ed, The former Florida governor took a more hardline approach to the crisis on the border, siding with the White House and most of the members of his party who say that the vast majority of those crossing the border will have to be deported.

“We now have a humanitarian crisis on our southern border that demands strong leadership that respects the rule of law,” the opinion piece read, noting that the present influx of border crossing migrants is a clear indication that the border is not secure.

“Despite President Obama’s reassurances, few of these children are likely to return home if nothing changes,” the op-ed added.

Currently the vast number of children is overwhelming the process. Roughly half do not show up for their hearings. As a result, judging by Homeland Security figures, only a fraction of the approximately 20,000 Central American children who entered the country illegally in 2013 were repatriated. By some estimates, as few as 2% of the 50,000 children who have crossed the border illegally this year have been sent home.

We must close loopholes that allow for individuals to be released from federal custody between hearings. Except for those deserving few who may demonstrate true cause for asylum or protection from sex trafficking, these children must be returned to their homes in Central America.

Next, we must aggressively remove the incentives that encourage people to break immigration laws. It is vital that we clearly communicate that there will be zero rewards for those who imperil the lives of children by sending them to the U.S. illegally. The children who have come here were provoked by adults and made to believe that crossing our border would be the key to their family’s escape from a life of poverty or danger. That must end.

Bush closes however with a nod to the project of immigration reform. His and Bolick’s op-ed concludes that the “Best antidote to illegal immigration” is a functioning system which values an influx of skilled laborers over “family-reunification.”

The guests on CNN’s politics panel thought that Bush was speaking directly to them with this last perfunctory message of support for immigration reform.

“I think including that language at the end there was done with the express purpose of preempting people like us from saying, ‘Oh, look at Jeb Bush, he’s becoming more hawkish on the border now,’” New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin submitted. “’He’s running from his reformer standpoint, trying to pander to the party.’”

CNN’s John King asked the right question; will Bush now make the case for reforming the immigration system, if he runs for president, as a candidate in spite of its obvious unpopularity with the base of his party. If the election were held this year, it would certainly cost him the nomination if he did.

Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a co-author of the Senate’s immigration reform bill, conceded that the border crisis has made reform a toxic notion. In an interview with NPR, Rubio said that border security must come first or there will be no reform measure passed for perhaps another decade.

A lot can change in two years, but, for now, the crisis on the southern border appears to have even turned off the GOP’s pro-reform voices to the cause of restructuring the nation’s immigration system.