Jeb Bush’s Long History Of Immigration Evolution Clouds His Attack On 2016 Field Over Issue

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has flip-flopped in every imaginable way on immigration since the mid-1990s.

He once supported mass deportation of all illegal aliens in America. After that, he supported a pathway to legal status—but not citizenship—for them. Then he changed his mind to back a pathway to citizenship, before flip-flopping back to support just legal status and not citizenship.

None of this is surprising from someone who now calls himself an “honorary Latino.” Ever since he began thinking about running for president Bush has become a champion of illegal aliens’ cause, even calling the action that they took to cross the border unlawfully was an “act of love.”

What is surprising is that someone who’s evolved as much as Bush has on immigration has the audacity to attack other Republicans who learn more about the issue and shift their positions, presumably attacking those who don’t support amnesty.

On a conference call with the Republican Party of Alabama, the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported that Bush “said that he believes President Obama’s executive actions to change immigration laws will be eventually ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.”

O’Keefe quoted Bush from the call as saying he supports giving illegal aliens: “a path to earned legal status, not citizenship, but earned legal status. Where people get a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work, they don’t receive federal government assistance and they — over extended period of time — they earn legal status.”

None of that is new. What is new, however, is what Bush said next.

O’Keefe wrote that Bush “said he welcomed the opportunity to explain his views on both subjects”—immigration and Common Core—and then quoted Bush hammering his 2016 GOP opponents. Bush said, according to O’Keefe, that he finds “it interesting that people who share that view — rather than stick with the view and try to persuade people about it — in many cases have actually abandoned their views. I think the next president is going to have tougher times dealing with these issues than dealing with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. If we’re going to bend with the wind, then it’ll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems.”

Bush seems to be targeting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the clear 2016 frontrunner, who’s shifted his view to stand up for American workers instead of illegal aliens and special interests. Or he could be attacking Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)—who, despite still supporting every policy that was in the “Gang of Eight” bill, doesn’t support doing it in a comprehensive manner anymore. Rubio, ironically—as confirmed by the Las Vegas Review Journal’s James Dehaven—has the exact same position on immigration as Hillary Clinton.

“Rubio said providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — perhaps not unlike the proposal touted by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton — ‘may be where we wind up’ in efforts to reform federal immigration law, but said no such reforms would grow out of one big bill,” Dehaven wrote this week.

No matter who Bush’s attack was meant for, it’s pure hypocrisy for the former Florida governor to criticize anyone for shifting views on immigration.

“From advocating deportation in 1994 to embracing a ‘pathway’ in 2009 before renouncing it in 2013 at Sen. Graham’s request, Jeb Bush will flip-flop when he deems it politically expedient–but, in his own words, ‘If we’re going to bend with the wind, then it’ll be hard to imagine how we solve our problems,’” one GOP campaign strategist with a different campaign told Breitbart News. “Amazingly, Gov. Bush has the audacity to attack his opponents for changing their position, while he was changing his position. Americans are tired of hypocritical, career politicians who stand for nothing.”

Back in 1994, when he first ran for Florida Governor against Democrat Lawton Chiles—a race he lost but one that would set the stage for his 1998 gubernatorial victory in the Sunshine State—Bush supported mass deportation of illegal aliens.

“Back then, there was virtually no talk of turning millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. into citizens. When asked what to do with them, Bush had one word: deportation,” Politifact’s Molly Moorhead wrote in 2013, in a piece where she confirmed that Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman’s claim that Bush “flip-flop-flip[ped] on immigration” was true.

Moorhead continued: “In an interview with the Miami Herald, he was asked, “There are something like 4 million illegals in the United States . . . . What would you do with the ones that are here?”

“Start deporting people,” he answered. “We have an asylum process . . . . It shouldn’t take five years. We need to reform our system. … I don’t blame them for wanting to come to our country, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily our responsibility to allow them to come in.”

But he also made it clear he was not in favor of closing the border. “I believe in open, legal immigration,” Bush said.

Then in 2006, Bush—in an email exchange with the Los Angeles Times—hammered his fellow Republicans who supported denying citizenship to illegal aliens.

“Accusing politicians of ‘pounding their chests’ on immigration for short-term political gain, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that the tone of the debate had been ‘hurtful’ to him and his Mexican-born wife, Columba,” the Los Angeles Times’ Peter Wallsten wrote on April 6, 2005—in the middle of Bush’s older George W. Bush, then the U.S. President, pushing for a large-scale national immigration reform. He went on:

Bush, the younger brother of President Bush, reserved some of his sharpest criticism for conservatives in his own Republican Party, calling it ‘just plain wrong’ to charge illegal immigrants with a felony, as a provision passed by the Republican-led House would do. He also opposed ‘penalizing the children of illegal immigrants’ by denying them U.S. citizenship, an idea backed by some conservatives but not included in the legislation.

Later in the piece, despite attacking conservative Republicans for wanting to deny illegal aliens citizenship, Wallsten noted that Jeb Bush—like George W. Bush—“offered no specificity on how to treat current immigrants and whether they should be granted a path to citizenship.”

Fast forward to 2009, and Bush—who was working with the Council on Foreign Relations—co-authored an op-ed calling for a way to deal with the illegal aliens here that allowed them to stay. In that piece, Bush did not renounce his previous support for citizenship for illegal aliens.

“Congress and the Obama administration should move ahead on three fronts: reform the legal immigration system so that it responds more adroitly to labor market needs and enhances U.S. competitiveness; restore the integrity of immigration laws through more effective enforcement, especially at the workplace; and offer a fair and orderly way to allow many of those currently living here illegally to earn the right to remain legally,” he wrote with the CFR leaders.

Then in Bush’s 2013 book “Immigration Wars,” he came out against citizenship for illegal aliens—instead supporting just giving them legal status.

“Permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship. It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship,” Bush wrote in the book.

In several post-book-release interviews, Bush confirmed his viewpoint—at the time of the book’s launch—was that illegal aliens should get legal status but not citizenship.

“Their [Bush and co-author Clint Bolick] six-point proposal includes a call to legalize the nation’s undocumented immigrants – but without a path to citizenship – stressing the need to maintain the rule of law as well as appeal to conservatives,” NBC Latino’s Sandra Lilley wrote after interviewing Bush. “The authors also say family reunification should be limited to spouses and minor children, arguing that the country needs to focus on bringing in more workers to replenish a diminishing labor force.”

According to The Hill’s Mike Lillis, on NBC’s Today show in March 2013 Bush—while discussing his book— laid out why he didn’t think there should be citizenship for illegal aliens.

“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,” Bush 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.”

NBC News’ Carrie Dann even called it “an apparent reversal from his past statements.”

Not even two weeks later, in an interview with Democratic operative and former Bill Clinton White House staffer George Stephanopoulos for his program on ABC, Bush flip-flopped again—and laid out how he does support citizenship for illegal aliens.

What happened was after all of Bush’s commentary against citizenship for illegal aliens at the time—during a timeframe in which Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) were cooking up the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill, which contained citizenship for illegal aliens—Graham freaked out at Bush and Bush relented and publicly admitted to Stephanopoulos he supports citizenship.

“Senator Graham and I talked. He was responding to concerns that were expressed before the book was actually published,” Bush told Stephanopoulos. “I told him that I support his efforts and I applaud what he’s doing. And he concluded, after he heard what the thesis of the book is that we’re in sync. We’re on the same – on the same path.”

Bush added that he views it as “fine” for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

“The basic premise needs to be that coming to the country legally should be easier with less cost than coming to the country illegally,” Bush said.

And if you can create a system like that as is being discussed in the Senate and in the House- through a path to citizenship, that’s fine,” Bush said. “But my guess is that will take a long, long time to achieve. In the interim, it’s important to take people out from the shadows to allow them to have- the dignity of being- having legal status.

On Meet The Press that same weekend, Bush endorsed a pathway to citizenship again.

“I support what Sens. Graham and Rubio and [John] McCain and [Jeff] Flake are doing with their Democratic counterparts, and if they can find a way to get to a path to citizenship over the long haul, then I would support that,” Bush said on Meet The Press.

Now that Bush is gearing up to run for president—and isn’t pushing for Republicans in Congress to back an amnesty, at least not at this time—he again, at this time, opposes citizenship for illegal aliens and only supports amnesty via legal status.

In New Hampshire in April, Bush came out for legal status for illegal aliens—but not for citizenship.

“Speaking at the Politics and Eggs breakfast, Bush, who said last year that illegal immigration is an ‘act of love,’ proposed giving illegal immigrants provisional work permits after they pay taxes and fines and granting them legal status that they can ‘earn over an extended period of time,’” Breitbart News reported in April. “Bush said that illegal immigrants should not earn citizenship, which will again bring up his waffling on the citizenship question.”

Bush previously admitted to CNN, according to Politifact’s 2013 piece, that he’s flip-flopped on the citizenship-or-legal-status question. “I have supported both — both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship — with the underlying principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally,” Bush told CNN back then.

Bush’s then communications director Jaryn Emhoff told Politifact then that “[t]he book outlines a proposal by which immigrants — whether they are coming to work temporarily, to go to school, to live and work as permanent residents or seeking citizenship — can do so through an immigration process that would be much more open than before. So, it is talking about future immigrants, not those currently here illegally.”

Now, his campaign-in-waiting communications director Tim Miller told Breitbart News on Friday—when asked about the differences in positions that Bush has had in the interviews as compared with the book—that “Governor Bush laid out his view on immigration in his book Immigration Wars.”

“His plan is a path to earned legal status following the payment of fines, back taxes, learning English, and having no criminal record,” Miller said. “What you are referring to is his discussion in other interviews about the need to find consensus in Washington to come to a permanent solution that secures the border and addresses our current failed immigration system.”


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