George Bush calls for 'gradual' citizenship path for illegal immigrants, but says 'amnesty' is 'unfair'

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Former President George W. Bush on Friday made a call for what he described as a “gradual” path to legal residency and eventually citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants — while at the same time claiming that “amnesty” would be “fundamentally unfair.”

Bush, whose 2007 push for an immigration reform bill met with furious resistance from his own party, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post, in which he previewed a new book that he said will include “principles for reform that can restore the people’s confidence in an immigration system that serves both our values and our interests.”

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“The help and respect historically accorded to new arrivals is one reason so many people still aspire and wait to become Americans. So how is it that in a country more generous to new arrivals than any other, immigration policy is the source of so much rancor and ill will?” he asks.

Bush lists a number of steps that can be taken, beginning with permanent legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the country as children and were protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

As for border security, nods to the present crisis at the southern border without mentioning it directly. He calls for “a secure and efficient border…we should apply all the necessary resources — manpower, physical barriers, advanced technology, streamlined and efficient ports of entry, and a robust legal immigration system — to assure it.”

As for illegal immigrants already in the country, Bush begins by saying that “a grant of amnesty would be fundamentally unfair to those who came legally or are still waiting their turn to become citizens.”

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However, he then immediately calls for those here illegally to be “brought out of the shadows through a gradual process in which legal residency and citizenship must be earned, as for anyone else applying for the privilege.” 

“Requirements should include proof of work history, payment of a fine and back taxes, English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and a clean background check,” he says.

Those calling for creating a pathway for residency and citizenship for illegal immigrants will often reject the term “amnesty” if their pathway includes certain hurdles or conditions that must be met over time

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is the driving force in the Senate behind the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would offer a path to citizenship for all illegal immigrants currently in the country, has also rejected the claim that that bill is “amnesty.”

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Bush’s 2007 push for immigration reform, which included a pathway to citizenship combined with stricter border measures, was killed in the Senate in part by Republicans who called it an amnesty bill.

Bush also calls for a “modernized asylum system” increase legal immigration, as well as an improved temporary entry program to allow guest workers to come in temporarily.

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Bush is releasing a book, “Out of Many, One” featuring portraits and stories of immigrants, next week.

It is unclear how Bush’s message will be received. The current comprehensive immigration bill being pushed by Democrats and the White House — which includes a citizenship pathway, but is scant on border security — has been roundly rejected by Republicans.

Meanwhile, smaller bills to grant citizenship to illegal immigrant farmworkers and DACA recipients, have been so far rejected by Republicans — who say they will not play ball until the ongoing crisis at the southern border is fixed.

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