George W. Bush Says the Immigration Debate Should Have a 'Benevolent Spirit'

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Former President George W. Bush called for immigration reform during a citizenship ceremony in Dallas on Wednesday, and urged people to be nice. Though he didn't say it, his remarks probably were meant for conservative Republicans. "I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind," Bush said. "We understand the contributions immigrants make to our country. We must remember that the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard and support their families... At it's core immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation."

A big focus of the immigration debate has been how to prevent immigrants from receiving welfare. The Senate bill says undocumented workers would be blocked from getting government benefits, such as food stamps and disability and subsidies to buy health insurance under Obamacare. Some proposals went further, like preventing immigrants from getting the Earned Income Tax Credit. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions proposed only letting immigrants who make four times the federal poverty level apply for the path to citizenship. Sessions has complained that when people are let into the country, "Virtually no one one is being examined before they enter the country on whether or not they'll ... immediately begin to depend on government welfare." If one goal of passing immigration is to make Latinos think Republicans don't hate them and thus consider voting for the party—John McCain has pretty explicitly said this—then implying that tons of immigrants are moochers might not help the cause.

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The former president's brother, Jeb Bush, sounded a similar note in a Wall Street Journal editorial earlier this month. Jeb wrote:

Immigration is not the only issue on which Hispanics or Asians vote. But it is a gateway issue. Republicans have much in common with immigrants—beliefs in hard work, enterprise, family, education, patriotism and faith. But for their voice to penetrate the gateway, Republicans need to cease being the obstacle to immigration reform and instead point the way toward the solution.

It's interesting that Jeb Bush included Asians in his editorial. They voted for President Obama even more overwhelmingly than Latinos did. As The New York Times' Paul Krugman points out, that's even though wealthier people tend to vote Republican, and Asians tend to be wealthier.

Bush's remarks came just before House Republicans held a long, closed-door strategy meeting on immigration. Speaker John Boehner has said the House won't bring up the Senate's immigration bill, and the bills the House passes would likely be more conservative. Supporters of the bill held a rally outside the Capitol during the meeting (photo at right by Politico's Ginger Gibson.) Though the signs warned the GOP the future of their party was at stake, it is unlikely the lawmakers were convinced the protesters were their voters in the first place. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.