In Defense of Jeb Bush's Alleged Immigration Flip-Flop

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 4 2013 3:26 PM

In Defense of Jeb Bush's Alleged Immigration Flip-Flop

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

The Charlie Rose Show, last summer:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

CHARLIE ROSE: I mean a lot of people argue two things. Number one is that a hard-nosed immigration policy will send another signal, number one. Number two, they argue that some sense of people who are here and have been leading productive lives should not be forced back.
JEB BUSH: You have to deal with this issue. You can`t ignore it. And so, either a path to citizenship, which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives; Or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind, which now hopefully will become -- I would accept that in a heartbeat as well if that`s the path to get us to where we need to be which is on a positive basis using immigration to create sustained growth.
We're the only country that can have a fertility rate above break-even and a young energetic aspirational population that can create prosperity, wealth and opportunity but we can`t do it with one hand tied behind our back by saying we`re going to look like another country. We`re not going to embrace our heritage and take advantage of this. This is something really unique to America.

Newsday, September 20, 2012:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told a crowd of several hundred at Hofstra University yesterday that he supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants - a position at odds with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Bush, 59, a Republican, spoke for more than an hour on domestic and foreign policy. Bush also answered questions from students on issues ranging from the cost of public education to his own political aspirations. He said he likely will not run for the presidency.
"We could re-create and re-energize this incredible country by having an open immigration system that is part of an economic strategy and not a political strategy," Bush said.

The "path to citizenship" is a buzzphrase, a creation of the two-way-mirrored rooms in which people come up with terms that focus groups can't hate. As it's usually understood, it means a relatively easy green-card process for illegal immigrants already in the United States. But Bush, who's schlepping a new book, is coming out for something else, as Elise Foley reports.

"A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage," [Bush and co-author Clint Bolick] write. "However, illegal immigrants who wish to become citizens should have the choice of returning to their native countries and applying through normal immigration processes that now would be much more open than before."

That's technically a "path!" Bush doesn't favor a streamlined process comparable to the one his brother backed (in vain) at the end of his presidency. But when he tells the Miami Herald he doesn't back "self-deportation," he's right—"self-deportation," as it's played out in Alabama, means de jure reforms that make life so intolerable for illegal aliens that they split, with no reform to the citizenship process. Bush is moving closer to the position of his protege, Marco Rubio. It's not a flip so much as a lurch.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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