Politics

Jeb Bush Jumps Back Into Changing Immigration Debate

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Potential presidential candidate Gov. Jeb Bush jumped back into the GOP’s increasingly hot debate over immigration, with an op-ed article simultaneously calling for the deportation of Central American migrant children and for quick passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“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,” said Bush, in a Wednesday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The fix for the nation’s immigration problem, Bush said, is a revamp that reduces the number of green cards for the family relatives of recent immigrants, but also increases green cards for people “whose skills and drive will make a difference” to the economy.

“The best antidote to illegal immigration is a functioning system of legal immigration,” Bush wrote. “Congress should not use the present crisis as an excuse to defer comprehensive immigration reform.”

Many GOP insiders and consultants want Congress to pass an immigration rewrite this year, partly to minimize the pro-Democratic turnout by Latino voters in 2016. But the GOP’s populist wing has blocked the Senate’s 2013 immigration rewrite.

Bush’s “must be returned” comment is a sharp change in tone from his comment in April, when he said that many illegal immigrants cross the border in an “act of love” for their dependent families.

“They broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love,” he said at the April 6 event at the George H. W. Bush library.

“It’s an act of commitment to your family,” he said. “It shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

Bush’s new op-ed criticized President Barack Obama. ”These children are trying to escape horrific gang violence and dire conditions in their native countries. … We now have a humanitarian crisis on our southern border that demands strong leadership that respects the rule of law,” he said.

“Despite President Obama’s reassurances, few of these children are likely to return home if nothing changes,” he said.

The public debate over immigration has sharply changed in the last month.

Since last October, President Barack Obama has allowed almost 50,000 Central American youths, plus many of 50,000 additional people who arrived in so-called “family units,” to join parents and relatives in the nation’s cities, and to appeal for judicial permission to stay. Roughly 90 percent of the so-called unaccompanied children are teenagers, and nearly all are accompanied by smugglers working for the parents who pay up to $10,000 to have their children delivered to federal agencies in Texas. Under Obama’s policies, the agencies have completed 96 percent of the smugglers’ contracts by delivering the youths and children to the parents, many of whom are in the country illegally.