Jeb Bush tests the waters

Jeb Bush is coming under fire for saying yesterday that many of those who enter the U.S. illegally do so as “an act of love” towards their family and therefore shouldn’t be treated as ordinary criminals. Bush stated:

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. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.

It’s an easy statement to shoot at. Crimes such as theft, burglar, and even armed robbery can also be “acts of love” in the same sense that Bush meant. Should people not get “riled up” about theft, burglary, and armed robbery?

But Bush’s comment isn’t entirely without merit. Unlike thieves and robbers, many illegal immigrants are providing services to Americans. And though they entered illegally, they did so while the government more-or-less looked away under, in effect, an unofficial arrangement whereby they would get the opportunity for a better life in exchange for providing cheap labor.

Accordingly, Bush is right that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be demonized. Furthermore, in my view they shouldn’t be hunted down and deported (nor are they — nearly all deportations under President Obama are of illegals with a criminal history or those who were caught recently entering illegally).

At the same time, illegal immigrants shouldn’t be rewarded with legal status, and certainly not with a path to citizenship. That wasn’t part of the “arrangement” under which they illegally entered the U.S. And rewarding illegal immigration will encourage more of it.

In his latest remarks, Jeb Bush took no position on legalization/path to citizenship. His past positions have varied.

But Bush has been consistently sympathetic towards illegal immigrants, and as he considers whether to run for president he wants to put that sympathy on the table. He has decided, I think, that if he does run, he will run as who he is. And before deciding, he wants to gauge whether “who he is” will be viable in the free-for-all of vigorous debates and primaries.

I have mixed feelings. There should be room in the Republican race for candidates with Bush’s views on immigration (whatever, precisely, they may be). But for reasons mostly unrelated to his views on immigration or other substantive matters, I definitely don’t want Jeb Bush to be the Republican candidate in 2016.

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