Former Republican President George W. Bush waded into the simmering immigration debate on Wednesday, calling the current set of laws “broken” and urging leaders to reach a “positive resolution” as negotiations come to a head in Washington.
“We have a problem: The laws governing the immigration system aren’t working,” Bush said ahead of a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas. “The system is broken. We’re now in an important debate for reforming those laws — and that’s good.”
He added, “I don’t intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate. And I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind.”
The 43rd president has mostly avoided weighing in on political matters since leaving office, but not passing immigration reform remains one of the great regrets of his presidency. Thousands of miles from Washington, Bush hoped to sway Republicans who remain skeptical of any laws that would grant a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people in the country illegally.
Bush’s appeal comes at a crucial point for yet another push for immigration reform on Capitol Hill. House Republicans are huddling Wednesday afternoon to craft a path on immigration, and leaders are expected to float a piecemeal approach rather than embrace the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate.
Sensing GOP concerns about border security, Bush argued that reforms did not have to come at the expense of enforcing laws.
“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” he insisted.
Still, House Republicans have little incentive to embrace Bush’s message, as his influence has waned in GOP circles since leaving office.
“Nope, it makes no difference whatsoever,” one GOP House aide told the Washington Examiner in response to the speech.
In fact, President Obama, who once campaigned as the anti-Bush, has repeatedly invoked his predecessor during his push for an immigration fix.
“Seven years ago, President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said at the opening of Bush’s presidential library in April. “I am hopeful that this year … we bring it home. If we do that, it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of president George W. Bush.”