MIAMI, Fl. - An immigration proposal by a group of U.S. Senators and backed by the White House offers some useful ideas to reform U.S. law, including switching to a merit-based system and reducing family reunification, according to former presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
However, Bush opposes efforts to slash the overall number of immigrants by half, a key goal of the RAISE Act proposed last week in Congress, and quickly endorsed by the White House.
Bush’s support for the measure is a rare instance of with the Trump administration which he gives a poor grade after the first 200 days. The Spanish-speaking former Florida governor is known as a moderate within the Republican Party, especially on immigration, a position which he acknowledges may have hurt his election chances last year.
“I think that using a system where there’s a priority for people with skills, where there’s scarcity of labor and there are immigrants who wish to fill that scarcity, there’s some value there,” Bush told Univision News during a relaxed 30-minute interview in his Miami office. “And I think it’s worth having a points-based system based on economic utility. Australia has it, Canada has it.”
Bush laid out his ideas on immigration in a 2013 book, “Immigration Wars”, including chapters on family-based immigration and the merit-points system, arguing that the country’s 1965 immigration laws were hopelessly outdated, and much more generous than other nations. “The U.S. is the only country in the world that has this extended definition of family, including adult siblings and adult parents,” he highlighted. “As a result, since 1965, 85% of all legal immigrants come through that means. No other country comes close to that.”
Bush said he backs the Senate proposal to limit family reunification to spouses and unmarried minor children (under 21 years of age). But he strongly objects to another element of the RAISE Act: an English-speaking requirement for green card applicants. “When you become a citizen you have to pass a citizenship test in English, unless you are an elderly person. I think that’s the proper way to deal with this,” he said, rejecting the notion that green card applicants without English-language skills would not be eligible.
“People that come from other countries learn English and it’s to their advantage that they do it. And as long as we have a set of shared values that we believe in it doesn’t matter to me, and it shouldn’t matter to anybody else," he added.
While Bush's voice perhaps no longer carries as much political weight after his failed bid for president last year, he is considered an authority on immigration. His comments match those of several senior Republicans, including his fellow Floridian, Sen Marco Rubio, as well as Sen Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake in Arizona.
More time for ESPN and soaps
These days Bush says he is enjoying life with his Mexican-born wife of 43 years and their four grandchildren, as well as pursuing business interests, including an ownership bid for the Miami Marlins baseball team. "The best thing about my life today is that I watch a lot of ESPN and Univision soaps, and less Washington politics," he said, with a laugh.
Bush remains a firm supporter of legislation to protect the so-called Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as minors. The Trump administration has yet to clarify where it stands on DACA, an executive order (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) by President Barack Obama which gave temporary protection to almost 800,000 of those Dreamers. DACA is set to face a major legal challenge from a group of Republican-controlled states at the start of September, and experts say its future is in serious legal doubt.
Bush says Obama misused his authority in authorizing DACA, and an accompanying executive order known as DAPA, which protected the parents of the Dreamers. The Courts blocked DAPA and the Trump administration rescinded it in June. “I don’t believe the president had the authority by executive authority to unilaterally do what he did as it relates to DACA, and DAPA, and I think it should be dealt with in the proper channels through Congress,” he said, while advocating for bipartisan legislation.
“There’s broad support (in Congress) to deal with a child who came here through no fault of their own and is deemed illegal but had no connection, no nexus, to the country that they came from as a young person,” he said.
Lack of leadership
Like many critics of the RAISE Act, Bush does not believe it has the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate, but he welcomes the much-needed debate. He blamed Trump’s lack of leadership – across a broad range of issues - as partly responsible for polarization over the immigration debate. “He’s created controversy where there is no need for it. He should lead, and all of this tweeting and the pushing down people to make himself look better is not helping,” he said.
The RAISE has gotten off to a rocky start after senior White House advisor Stephen Miller last week questioned the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of a country that welcomes immigrants. Instead, Miller said the focus of immigration should be exclusively for the benefit of the U.S. economy.
Bush, on the other hand, thinks the country can achieve both economic growth accompanied by a fair immigration system. “It's a noble tradition to bring people in, many of them don’t have very much, and I don’t think we want to eliminate that, but the simple fact is we live in a very competitive world,” he said. “And it’s important I think to also recognize that we have a strategic opportunity to allow people to come in to be the next Elon Musk, to be the next people that will create the next wave of jobs that will allow us to go forward. I think we can do both.”