Jeb Bush made a surprising return to the immigration reform debate by announcing he no longer supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But after a backlash from immigration activists, he seems to be opening the door the slightest bit to changing his mind once again.
Bush acknowledged his previous backing for a path to citizenship in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday.
“I have supported both — both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship — with the underlining principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally,” he told CNN.
Bush added, however, that he was interested in creating a vastly expanded legal immigration process to accept more low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants in the future. His wording was more than a little awkward, but the suggestion seemed to be that such a system might act as a path to citizenship for existing undocumented immigrants.
“Today the only path to come to this country other, than family re-unification, is to come illegally,” Bush said in his CNN appearance, referring to low-skilled immigrants who make up the bulk of the undocumented population. “We need to create another category of legal immigration where there is actually a line. So if you could create that through a path to citizenship I would support that.”
In his new book, “Immigration Wars: Forging An American Solution,” Bush mentioned that illegal immigrants might be able to apply for a green card if they return to their native countries. A big question, however, is whether they’d then be able to immediately come back to the states under some provisional legal status while their applications go through — a component in some past comprehensive reform bills. Bush’s book doesn’t fill in any more details.
Earlier Tuesday, Bush told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that he could be open to a path to citizenship if he became convinced it wouldn’t encourage another wave of illegal immigration.
“If you can craft that in law where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally, I’m for it, I support it,” Bush said. “I don’t see how you do it, but I’m not smart enough to figure out every aspect of a really complex law.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a protege of Bush who is backing a bipartisan Senate bill that contains a path to citizenship, took that interview as a sign “that [Bush] could support a plan that has a path so long as it doesn’t give favoritism to those who violated the law — and that’s exactly what we’re working on.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.