Jeb Bush Flip-Flops on Immigration Reform

World Affairs Council of Philadelphia

Just six weeks ago, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsed a path to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration reform solution, following the path established by both his brother—George W. Bush—and President Obama. As he wrote at the time, "A practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants—a system that will include a path to citizenship—will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers." [Emphasis added]

At the time—again, just six weeks ago—this was the mainstream position of Republicans working on immigration reform. The framework endorsed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and other lawmakers included a path to citizenship, with varying penalties for immigrants who came to the United States illegally.

Now, with Rubio attacking Obama for holding ideas shared by both and conservative Republicans edging away from immigration reform altogether, Bush has changed his tune:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday comprehensive immigration reform didn’t require a pathway to citizenship, a key plank of the bipartisan Gang of Eight proposal in the Senate.

”Our proposal is a proposal that looks forward,” Bush said on NBC’s “Today.” “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. There’s a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place to be in that sense.”

His reasoning? Some immigrants "don't want to be citizens of our country. They want to work hard, they want to provide for the families, some of them want to come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens." This might be a concern if immigrants were placed automatically on a path to citizenship, but that's not the case at all. If an immigrant doesn't want to stay in the United States, they are allowed to leave.

In any case, by abandoning the path to citizenship, Bush has placed himself to the right of Rubio. For what reason, of course, is still unknown. If I had to hazard a guess, however, this is another sign Republicans are moving away from comprehensive immigration reform, and towards something more piecemeal and less effective.

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