Former President George W. Bush lamented the polarization of immigration reform in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday, writing that “the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party.”
“Over the years, our instincts have always tended toward fairness and generosity. The reward has been generations of grateful, hard-working, self-reliant, patriotic Americans who came here by choice,” Bush wrote. “If we trust those instincts in the current debate, then bipartisan reform is possible. And we will again see immigration for what it is: not a problem and source of discord, but a great and defining asset of the United States.”
The op-ed is in line with Bush’s longstanding calls for immigration reform but nonetheless puts him at odds with many of the GOP’s likely 2024 presidential contenders, who align more closely with former President Donald Trump’s hard line approach to immigration issues. Others in the GOP would theoretically entertain a deal linking some path to citizenship with border security spending, though progress along those lines has been scant.
The op-ed was published ahead of Bush’s interview with CBS’ Norah O’Donnell that’s set to air in clips beginning Sunday, in which he said he’s “ready to re-enter the debate on immigration.” In his piece, Bush called for a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” increased border security, working with other countries to stem the root causes of migration as well a “modernized” asylum system and higher levels of legal immigration, “focused on employment and skills.”
He also said that amnesty for millions of undocumented people would be “fundamentally unfair” for others who have legal immigration status or are waiting to become citizens. But he also said that undocumented immigrants should be able to earn residency and citizenship gradually via employment, paying taxes, “English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and a clean background check.”
“No proposal on immigration will have credibility without confidence that our laws are carried out consistently and in good faith,” Bush wrote.
Bush attempted to pass immigration reform through when he was in office, but failed to get the legislation through Congress. In the interview with CBS, Bush said not getting immigration reform passed was one of the “biggest disappointments” as president.
“I campaigned on immigration reform. I made it abundantly clear to voters this is something I intended to do,” Bush said.
Since Bush left office, Congress has been unable to pass significant immigration reform, with Trump and former President Barack Obama both relying heavily on executive action.
“All that means is that Congress isn’t doing its job,” Bush said in the CBS interview.