Former President George W. Bush waded ever so gently into the fierce debate in Washington over immigration reform, urging lawmakers to reach a "positive resolution" on the issue, and warning against disparaging immigrants.
"We can uphold our tradition of assimilating immigrants, and honoring our heritage of our nation built on the rule of law. But we have a problem. The laws governing the immigration system aren't working; the system is broken."
Speaking Wednesday morning at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens held at his presidential library, Bush refused to comment specifically on the legislative battle that has enrapt the Capitol and beguiled many of the former president's fellow Republicans.
But Bush, who sought similar legislation during his presidency that would have offered undocumented immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship, spoke warmly about the positive contributions of immigrants.
"I don't intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there's a positive resolution to the debate," he said. "And I hope, during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country."
His comments come as House Republicans gather in Washington to mull their response to comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed last month by the Senate. The debate carries significant political implications; Republicans have lost ground with Hispanic voters since Bush's re-election in 2004. And the Hispanic vote has only grown in strength and influence, prompting some in the GOP to argue that passing immigration reform is essential to ending the party's bleeding with those voters.
Bush seemed to gently reference Republicans' concerns, which involve complaints that the Senate-passed legislation does little to enforce the security of the border between the United States and Mexico.
"We're also a nation of laws. And we must enforce our laws. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," he said.
The fate of immigration reform seems to rest now with House Republicans, who have all but rejected the bipartisan Senate legislation crafted painstakingly over the course of months. The House GOP will meet Wednesday to mull the issue, though the lawmakers seem largely unmoved by the words of the last Republican to win the presidency.
The House has suggested that, if anything, they might move along elements of immigration reform in bits and pieces, beginning with legislation to beef up border security. But such an effort may well stymie Bush's hope for a "positive resolution" to the issue of immigration, since Democrats have insisted that greater border enforcement be linked to measures offering undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship.
Bush had been a vocal proponent of legislation that would have offered undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship during his second term. His bid to reform the nation’s immigration rules was turned aside, though, when many conservatives in Congress balked at supporting such an effort, which they regarded as “amnesty” for those who came to the United States illegally. Many critics of the current immigration overhaul have said the same thing about the current legislation.