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Losing with Latinos: Will Jeb Bush Really Take Immigration Cues from Mitt Romney?

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On Today Show, Jeb Bush Flip-Flops on Citizenship, Appears to Support Permanent Underclass

Despite the growing number of Republicans supporting immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, we know that some GOP holdouts still don’t get it regarding good immigration policy, politics, and the GOP rebranding effort to Latino voters.  However, we never thought we’d have to count former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in that camp.

Governor Bush, who long had been a pro-reform, pro-citizenship outlier among fellow Republican presidential contenders, appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” this morning and walked back his past support for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.  Notably, Bush endorsed the “permanent underclass” concept that has been floated by some House Republicans – legalization but stopping short of offering undocumented immigrants an opportunity to earn American citizenship.  Bush’s statements are a significant devolution from his past support for citizenship; for example, during a June 2012 interview with Charlie Rose on CBS News.

“If he stays with this new, ‘let them be workers but not citizens’ stance, it will be a political blunder of huge proportions,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “At a time when voters are looking for steady, principled leaders and Republicans are supporting citizenship in greater numbers, this should be Jeb Bush’s moment.  Yet his disturbing flip-flop on immigration citizenship and tack to the right ahead of a potential presidential primary suggests that he’s misread the moment.  By endorsing the failed concept of a permanent underclass for a mostly Latino group of workers, Bush will put a ceiling on potential Latino voter support.  Let’s hope he clarifies his position in the coming hours to show that he will be a proponent of reform with citizenship in 2013 and not an obstacle.”

A just-released Republican-only poll highlighted on the conservative website Newsmax shows that the Republican rank and file increasingly “get it” on immigration policy and politics.  Conducted by Republican pollsters John McLaughlin and Associates, Newsmax writes, “Some 66 percent of Republican voters support immigration reform that includes a waiting period of several years for illegal immigrants to prove themselves before being allowed to apply for citizenship.  During the waiting period illegal immigrants would be granted legal status and a green card in return for paying back taxes and fines, learning English and remaining free of a criminal record.”

Meanwhile, on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney offered what should have been a reminder to Bush about the political dangers of mishandling immigration.  When asked about immigration legislation, Romney stated, “People who have come here illegally should not be given a special pathway to permanent residency or citizenship in this country merely because they’ve come here illegally.”  Additionally, Romney mistakenly chalked up his historically low Latino voter performance to problems of messaging, not policy substance, saying, “The weakness that our campaign had and that I had is we weren’t effective in taking my message primarily to minority voters, to Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, other minorities.”

Added Sharry, “Jeb Bush has been brave on this issue for years.  It’s time for him to clarify his remarks and get back to where he’s been.”

Below are the relevant immigration portions of the Governor Bush interview on “Today”:

LAUER: When it comes to a path to citizenship, all right, you fall short of that—

BUSH: Right.

LAUER: You want legal residency—

BUSH: Yeah.

LAUER: But, and you want people to admit they’ve committed a crime by coming here illegally, to pay back taxes, pay some fines, but you do not want to offer them a path to citizenship. If they do all the things you’ve asked them, why not grant them that right to be an American?

BUSH: Because this—our proposal is a proposal that looks forward, and if we want to create an immigration policy that’s gonna work, we can’t continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration. And so I think it’s important that there’s a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place to be in that sense. Not to take away people’s rights—

LAUER: But again, the party wants to expand its base, if I’m an illegal immigrant and I look out there at the proposals coming forward, when I say “wait, okay, the President’s offering a path to citizenship,” I think in eight years, that the team—a bipartisan team—in the Senate looking for a slightly longer timeframe than that, then I look at Jeb Bush here and he’s saying, no, I don’t get a pathway to citizenship, I get legal residency, why do they jump on board with your proposal?

BUSH: Well, first of all, half the people who could have gotten amnesty in 1986 didn’t apply. Many people don’t want to be citizens of our country. They want to come here, they want to work hard, they want to provide for their families, some of them want to go home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens. So that’s point number one. Point number two is, I think 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. 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.

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.