Former Republican President George W. Bush is calling for bipartisan action on several immigration measures, calling for a restoration of “the people’s confidence in an immigration system that serves both our values and our interests.”
In a Washington Post op-ed published on Friday, Bush strikes a gentler tone on immigration than the one often uttered at the highest levels of today’s Republican Party, which has largely recast itself in the mold of President Donald Trump, whose demonization of immigrants was a central part of his political strategy.
The op-ed also comes at a time when the US is seeing a surge of migrants coming to its southern border and the Biden administration has struggled to handle the record influx.
“The help and respect historically accorded to new arrivals is one reason so many people still aspire and wait to become Americans. So how is it that in a country more generous to new arrivals than any other, immigration policy is the source of so much rancor and ill will?” Bush wrote. “The short answer is that the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party. And no proposal on immigration will have credibility without confidence that our laws are carried out consistently and in good faith.”
Bush advocated for embracing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the US as children. He also proposed “a secure and efficient border,” adding that “we should apply all the necessary resources — manpower, physical barriers, advanced technology, streamlined and efficient ports of entry, and a robust legal immigration system — to assure it.”
While Bush recommended “effective border management,” the former President wrote, “We cannot rely on enforcement alone to prevent the untenable and so often heartbreaking scenes that come with large-scale migration.”
Furthermore, Bush outlined the need for a “modernized asylum system,” and suggested that Congress work to reshape the current asylum system “to guard against unmerited entry and reserve that vital status for its intended recipients.”
While Bush stopped short of calling for citizenship for the millions of undocumented people currently living in the US, he said he supports increased legal immigration and suggested requirements for earned citizenship including “proof of work history, payment of a fine and back taxes, English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and a clean background check.”
Bush, who lives in Texas, has for years highlighted the immigrant community in his home state and has often praised America’s immigrant history while advocating for immigration policies. In his second term as president, Bush pushed an immigration bill that aimed to create a pathway to citizenship for some of the 12 million undocumented immigrants and sought to toughen border security, but the bill ultimately stalled in the Senate in 2007.
Friday’s op-ed comes at a time of heated debate over immigration in Washington. Progressives are pushing President Joe Biden to prioritize legislation that would offer a pathway to citizenship to undocumented essential workers in the second part of his two-part infrastructure package set to address education and child care. He’s also under pressure from the left to raise the cap on refugee admissions, which he has resisted out of concern about the political optics of such a move coming during the current border crisis, CNN has reported.
Meanwhile, Republicans, sensing a political opening, have depicted the situation at the border as a crisis that is overwhelming the Biden administration, which has made it difficult to pass legislation through a 50-50 Senate that can attract the Republican votes necessary to break a filibuster.