Jeb Bush: Piecemeal immigration reform is 'shortsighted and self-defeating'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says efforts to tackle immigration reform on a piecemeal basis are “shortsighted and self-defeating” — a critique that takes aim at members of his own party who are reluctant to support sweeping changes. 

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Bush, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with conservative immigration scholar Clint Bolick, warns against “quick fixes” to U.S. immigration law that address only issues like high-skilled worker visas or the granting of legal status for children brought to the country illegally. 

“In some conservative circles, the word 'comprehensive' in the context of immigration reform is an epithet — a code word for amnesty. People who oppose such reform declare that securing the United States border must come before moving toward broader reform,” Bush and Bolick write. 

“Such an approach is shortsighted and self-defeating. Border security is inextricably intertwined with other aspects of immigration policy,” they continue. “The best way to prevent illegal immigration is to make sure that we have a fair and workable system of legal immigration. The current immigration system is neither.”

Bush’s support for a comprehensive immigration reform package follows a similar, unsuccessful effort that his brother, former President George W. Bush, attempted in 2007. 

It also represents an attempt to cement his status as a leading GOP voice for reform along with potential 2016 presidential rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Bush and Rubio are considered top Republican contenders for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination. 

“The immigration system is like a jigsaw puzzle. If one or more pieces are out of whack, the puzzle makes no sense,” write Bush and Bolick, who have co-authored a book on immigration that will be published in March. “To fix the system, Congress must make sure all of the pieces fit together, logically and snugly.”

In the article, Bush and Bolick say “amnesty promotes illegal immigration” and the U.S. “must find a fair way to deal with its 11 million illegal immigrants without sending the message that America's laws can be broken with impunity.”

But “at the same time, we must recognize that children who were brought here illegally have committed no crime and in most instances know no other country.”

The authors say the U.S. needs a “practicable system” that boosts the number of high- and low-skilled immigrants and gives them a “path to citizenship.” 

In particular, they note, the U.S. is falling behind other nations — like Canada, New Zealand and “even China” —  which have "more sensible and welcoming immigration policies” that open doors to immigrant entrepreneurs.

“If we do not adapt, we will be increasingly unable to compete,” Bush and Bolick write. 

The former Florida governor says that current rules are so restrictive that there is no meaningful route for legal immigration for most people. 

“Critics of comprehensive reform often argue that illegal immigrants should return to their native countries and wait in line like everyone else who wants to come to America. But unless they have relatives in the U.S. or can fit within the limited number of work-based visas, no line exists for such individuals.”

Rubio released his own set of immigration proposals last week in an interview with the Journal

He would grant temporary legal status to those who passed background checks, underwent fingerprinting, demonstrated English skills and could prove having an extended residence in the country. 

Under Rubio's plan, these newly legalized immigrants could apply for permanent residency leading to citizenship but would not receive any expedited consideration. They would have to apply through the same channels as aspiring immigrants outside the nation’s borders.

Rubio would also change immigration quotas to give more preference to skilled workers relative to immigrants who apply for legal status on the basis of a family member already living in the country.

The plan would create a guest-worker program to meet the needs of farmers, who rely heavily on illegal-immigrant labor during the harvest season.

It would implement the E-Verify program, which would require employers to check the immigration status of potential hires through an immigration database.

— Alexander Bolton contributed.