Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens at his presidential library, former president George W. Bush supported the spirit of immigration reform while refusing to embrace or discuss any specifics.
“We can uphold our tradition of assimilating immigrants, and honoring the heritage of our nation built on the rule of law,” he said. “But we have a problem. The laws governing the immigration system aren’t working; the system is broken.”
The two sources of controversy for House Republicans — who are now considering their own bill after the Senate passed a compromise with 68 votes — are whether any undocumented workers can be legalized before the border is “secure” and a “path to citizenship.” The Senate bill authorizes a “border surge” as legalization begins and enacts concrete steps that will lead to naturalization for qualified immigrants.
Republicans are meeting Wednesday to discuss the legislation, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already said will not come up for a vote unless it has majority support in his caucus.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has placed himself at the fore of members who refuse to consider a “path to citizenship,” which is often called “amnesty” in reference to the 1986 immigration law signed by Ronald Reagan.
King blasted the very idea of reform, saying it was a just a way to help “elites who want cheap labor, Democratic power brokers, and those who hire illegal labor.”
But the congressman also presents a rebuttal to Karl Rove’s persistent suggestions that the GOP needs reform to win the White House.
“It would hurt Republicans, and I don’t think you can make an argument otherwise,” King said Monday. “Two out of every three of the new citizens would be Democrats.”
A new poll from Americans For A Conservative Direction suggests that only 21 percent of Republicans actually oppose a path to citizenship in any form. In contrast, 65 percent support citizenship when coupled with increased border security. That number, surprisingly, goes up 8 percent without new border security.
Citizenship is the crux of the bill for Democrats.
“Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday. “There can’t be a bill.”
David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report told The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent that he sees a feasible path to reform if Boehner can get a bare majority of his caucus to acquiesce to something resembling the Senate bill, relying on lawmakers who wouldn’t likely face a viable primary challenge and “realize that a failure to pass immigration reform is a long-term detriment to their party.”
The support of figures like George W. Bush could help motivate those swing congresspeople, though he wasn’t successful in pushing through his own similar reforms in 2007.
With that failure in mind, perhaps, the former president carefully encouraged the process without getting overtly political.
“I don’t intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there’s a positive resolution to the debate,” he said. “And I hope, during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country.”