Jeb Bush, the brother of George W Bush, who is seen as a frontrunner to be the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2016, has called on the Republicans to abandon their 'harsh political rhetoric' on illegal immigration and said that illegal immigration is 'not a felony'.
Mr Bush's words have been seen as the opening shot in his campaign to become president in 2016. They are an indication that, if he stands for President, the Republican Party will drop its opposition to the introduction of an amnesty for illegal immigrants in the US.
How the party reacts to his words will decide whether Mr Bush has any realistic chance of gaining the Republican nomination and also help decide what immigration policy the party adopts over the next decade. This, in turn, may decide the fate of the party itself.
'They broke the law, but it's not a felony'Mr Bush was interviewed on Sunday 6th April in Texas on Fox News, He said 'I'm going to say this and it will be on tape and so be it; the way I look at this, is someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally ... and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family'.
This is bound to be seen as a rebuke to those in the Republican Party, particularly members of the radical Tea Party movement, who want to see all illegal immigrants removed from the US and disapprove intensely of any moves to allow those in the country illegally to become citizens.
The Republican Party is deeply split on the subject of illegal immigration. Some on the right of the party are resolutely opposed to any legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the US. Others, like Mr Bush, believe that, unless the Republicans support reform of this kind, there will never be another Republican president.
Opinion splitThere are an estimated 11.5m illegal immigrants living in the US. 80% of them are of Hispanic descent. A further 10% are Asian, it is believed. Opinion in the US is split about what should be done about them.
Some believe that the US should grant an amnesty. If this were to occur, all those living in the country illegally would be allowed to 'come out of the shadows' and join a 'pathway to citizenship'. They would be able to live in the US legally and work and pay taxes. They would be required to pay a fine for entering the country illegally and, if necessary, they would be required to learn English.
Thereafter, after waiting for a long period, they would be allowed to apply for permanent resident status and, ultimately, to become US citizens.
Majority favours 'amnesty' for most illegal residentsPolls show that a majority of the US population favours the amnesty. Some polls show that this majority is as high as 80% while others show only 53% support. However, in the Republican Party, support for the amnesty is less pronounced. Most opponents of the amnesty tend to support the Republicans.
Opponents of the amnesty believe that the US should legislate to make life harder for illegal immigrants. They believe that by doing so, they will be able to make them leave or 'self-deport' .
Opponents of the amnesty claim that it would
- reward criminal behaviour by allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens ahead of those who apply in a lawful fashion
- encourage further illegal immigration in future as future illegal immigrants would expect a further amnesty in future
- disadvantage existing US citizens at a time when unemployment is already high.
Self-deportationAt the last presidential election in November 2012, President Obama campaigned on a promise of comprehensive immigration reform while his Republican challenger Mitt Romney promised, instead, to introduce 'self-deportation' policies which would make life so difficult for illegal aliens that they would choose, voluntarily, to leave the country.
Analysis of the election results show that Mr Romney's support for 'self-deportation' might explain why he lost the election. Hispanic and Asian voters voted heavily in favour of Mr Obama. Some 71% of Hispanic voters supported the Democrats and an even higher percentage of Asian voters supported him.
Mr Romney lost the popular vote in the election by only 2m votes. The Hispanic vote alone gave Mr Obama a 5m vote advantage. Of 11m Hispanic voters, 8m supported Mr Obama and 3m supported Mr Romney.
Hispanic and Asian populations growing fastThe Hispanic and Asian populations of the US are growing fast and, if the Republicans become identified with 'self-deportation' policies, some Republican strategists fear, they will never be elected again.
Jeb Bush may have personal reasons to oppose the 'self-deportation' policies. His own wife, Columba, came from Mexico. The couple met in 1971 while Mr Bush was teaching English in Mexico in 1971.
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