While acknowledging his own failures to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Bush reiterated the idea that immigrants are willing to come here and work hard, and we should "welcome them." He pled with the current administration to fix Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that offers protections for undocumented immigrants brought here as children which President Donald Trump ended in September.
"There are people willing to do jobs that Americans won't do," Bush said during a talk in Abu Dhabi. "Americans don't want to pick cotton at 105 degrees (Fahrenheit), but there are people who want put food on their family's tables and are willing to do that. We ought to say thank you and welcome them."
When he was president, Bush pushed for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and frequently hailed the work ethic of migrants who came to the United States. He was the first president to ever give a national address on immigration, famously saying that we are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. While he was often described as an immigrant-friendly conservative, he also oversaw the construction of fencing along hundreds of miles of the border, something that remains controversial to this day.
In his speech, Bush went on to describe the immigration system as "broken" and hailed the importance of the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
"It is important for our economy and also important for our soul that the immigration system functions well," he said. "I view it as a relationship vital for our economy and for our stability. We've got to enforce our borders and we've got to enforce our laws."
Since DACA ended, Congress has been scrambling to act. The government shut down briefly over the DACA fight, but was quickly re-opened when Republican Senators promised to put an immigration bill to a vote. Since then, President Trump has proposed a pathway to citizenship for up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants in exchange for more than $20 billion of border wall funding. Democrats rejected the proposal, and a bipartisan group say they are drafting a compromise with far less border wall funding, but political pundits say it has little chance of surviving a House vote or being signed into law.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a two-year spending bill that increased military and domestic spending but did nothing to address DACA. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi responded by giving the longest speech ever in the history of House, telling the stories of dozens of DACA recipients and pledging not to support a spending bill that didn't solve DACA. The House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of lawmakers, has also announced their opposition to the bill, but on the grounds that it does little to address the spending of the federal government.
As of Thursday morning, it appears the government could be headed for another shutdown, and with DACA protections nearing its expiration date, many are worried a fix won't come in time.
"America's their home," Bush said of DACA recipients. "They've got to get it fixed."
Cover image via Northfoto / Shutterstock.com.