Jeb Bush pushes back against pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants

Former Florida governor – and potential GOP presidential candidate – Jeb Bush said this week that a pathway to citizenship should not be a component of an overhaul of the nation's immigration system.

Bush, a Spanish-speaker who's wife is Mexican-born, has long-been viewed as one of the more liberal-minded GOP leaders when in comes to immigration policy, warning Republicans for years that they oppose significant reform at their own political peril.

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But in a Monday interview with NBC's “Today," Bush advocated for a system in which the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally be given the option of attaining permanent residency, but not eventual citizenship.

“There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law,” he said. “If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.”

That position puts him to the right of another Floridian and potential 2016 presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who is part of the bipartisan group of eight senators pushing for an immigration overhaul that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Supporters of the citizenship option argue that it will prevent the government-sanctioned creation of an underclass of U.S. residents, living permanently in the country but never able to avail all its benefits.

But Bush, who's making the media rounds to promote a new book, Immigration Wars, argued that a pathway to citizenship would only encourage more illegal immigration.

“If we want to create an immigration policy that’s going to work, we can’t continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration,” he said. “There’s a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place to be in that sense.”

He also maintained that many immigrants simply don't want to become U.S. citizens.

“They want to come here, they want to work hard, they want to provide for their families,” he said. “Some will want to come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens.”

Asked directly if he'll run for president in 2016, Bush left all options open.

“That's way off into the future,” he said.