Potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke with pride about the immigrant roots of his Mexico-born wife and the economic value immigrants add to the U.S. He also said he personally supported statehood for Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. commonwealth.
Bush spoke, at brief times in Spanish, to a crowd at the Universidad Metropolitana de Cupey in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Tuesday, the first event of a day that was also to include a town hall with the Republican Party of Puerto Rico and a fundraiser. He was to follow that visit with a trip to Houston Wednesday where he was to give the keynote speech at the annual convention of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Bush said the U.S. should move toward protecting the rule of law and its border and make it easier to immigrate legally than illegally, but he stopped his solutions list there and did not talk about the issue of a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. Bush has been a supporter of a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally if they met certain criteria, but he has tempered his support with comments that political support doesn't exist for that. He still backs a legal status for some immigrants.
His comments included a jab at his potential rivals who have taken tougher views on immigration.
"The conservative cause would be better to embrace this than push it away," he said.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens by birth.
Bush, who has not yet declared that he's running for president, told the university group the U.S. should be proud that it is an immigrant nation. The immigration system could be a "huge catalytic converter for high, sustained economic growth," he said.
"We are an immigrant nation and we should be proud of that," Bush said. "We should create an immigration system that drives economic opportunity for all of us."
Democrats scoffed at Bush's comments in a statement. "He opposes President Obama's executive action that would give millions of immigrant families peace of mind and a chance at the American Dream," said Pablo Manriquez, a Democratic Party spokesman.
Bush, who met with several pro-statehood leaders and advocates in the island, said that "Puerto Rican citizens, U.S. citizens, ought to have the right to determine whether they want to be a state. I think statehood is the best path, personally."
Residents of Puerto Rico don't vote in the presidential election, but Bush's visit to the island was seen as an overture to Puerto Ricans in the U.S., particularly in Florida.