Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said on Monday that his immigration plan will not include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, backing off his previous support for a policy that pro-reform activists consider a centerpiece of comprehensive reform.
In an interview on the Today show, NBC’s Matt Lauer host said Bush’s upcoming book, “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” appeared to “fall short” of offering eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in America today. Bush replied that Lauer was correct.
“Our proposal is a proposal that looks forward,” Bush said, “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. I think it’s important that there is a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place, I think, to be in that sense.”
Bush added that “if we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming in the country.”
His latest statement appears to be a shift from as recently as last year, when he told Charlie Rose in a June 2012 interview that he backed a path to citizenship, but would tolerate a lesser legal status for undocumented immigrants if necessary.
“You have to deal with this issue. You can’t ignore it,” Bush said at the time. “And so, either a path to citizenship, which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives; Or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind, which now hopefully will become — I would accept that in a heartbeat as well if that’s the path to get us to where we need to be which is on a positive basis using immigration to create sustained growth.”
Bush’s co-author, Goldwater Institute director Clint Bolick, is also on the record backing a path to citizenship, writing in 2007 that such a policy was a critical prerequisite to bringing Latino voters to the GOP.
For years, the former Florida governor has been a vocal advocate for immigration reform, even while his party shifted rightward, culminating in Mitt Romney’s uber-hawkish “self-deportation” position in the 2012 presidential campaign. But Bush’s latest comments suggest that as party leaders begin to ease to the left, they may overtake his position along the way.
Bush’s full proposal isn’t out until Tuesday, when his new book hits shelves, so it’s difficult to tell how much of his stance is just red meat rhetoric (other politicians who oppose a “path to citizenship” have been known to support some equivalent by another name). But assuming Bush is an actual hard “no” on citizenship, the implications could be dangerous for reform.
On the political front, Bush — a potential presidential candidate in 2016 — could pressure other likely hopefuls on their right flank, making them more nervous about backing congressional efforts to pass reform. Fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who is working on a bipartisan bill with a path to citizenship, is the most threatened in this scenario, but other prominent 2016ers, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who have indicated a willingness to consider citizenship could also be affected.
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.