George W. Bush urges 'benevolent' immigration reform debate

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Calls for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified since last month's election, when President Obama won more than 7 in 10 Hispanic voters. Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, partially attributed the president's strong support among Hispanic voters to his order halting deportation proceedings against some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Since then, some Republicans have looked to push immigration proposals in Congress. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has championed the STEM Jobs Act, which would increase the number of green cards available to foreign-born math and engineering graduates. The Achieve Act, introduced by retiring Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and John Kyl (R-Ariz.) would offer temporary work permits to undocumented workers brought to the United States as children.

Both proposals have thus far received only tepid support on Capitol Hill, but are seen as precursors to a broader immigration reform effort in the next Congress.

On Tuesday, Bush emphasized his belief that "America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time."

“Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, I had the honor and privilege of meeting the newly arrived,” Bush said. “Those who I’ve met love their families. They see education as a bright future for their children. Some willingly defend the flag.”

Bush attempted to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in summer 2006, but that effort was stymied in Congress.