1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact: Has Jeb Bush flip-flopped on immigration and a pathway to citizenship?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Friday after autographing his new book “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Friday after autographing his new book “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.”
Published Mar. 10, 2013

Jeb Bush was for it before he was against it.

And now he's for it again?

That's the refrain these days on where the former Florida governor stands on creating a process for people in the U.S. illegally to become American citizens — or something secondary to that, such as legal residents. Since his book Immigration Wars was released last week, Bush has been accused of changing position.

"@JebBush a flip-flop-flip on immigration? Wow. I fashioned you more of a baseball player than a gymnast. My bad. #notsurprisedatall," Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz quipped in a tweet.

Was it a flip-flop-flip?

'Start deporting'

Bush, a Texas native who calls Florida his adopted home state, plunged into politics in 1994 with a run to unseat Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, he was asked, "There are something like 4 million illegals in the United States. ... What would you do with the ones that are here?"

"Start deporting people," he answered. "We have an asylum process ... It shouldn't take five years. We need to reform our system ... I don't blame them for wanting to come to our country, but I don't believe it's necessarily our responsibility to allow them to come in."

Bush lost that election, but stormed back four years later and won the governor's race.

By 2006, Bush was well-established as Florida's chief executive, and he wasn't afraid to criticize members of his own party. His views, it seems, had evolved beyond "start deporting people."

In an email exchange with the Los Angeles Times that year, Bush weighed in with support for proposed federal immigration reform legislation, calling it "just plain wrong" to charge illegal immigrants with a felony and opposed "penalizing the children of illegal immigrants" by denying them U.S. citizenship.

Three years later, Bush co-chaired a bipartisan task force for the Council on Foreign Relations, which studied immigration challenges and came up with a set of proposals. In an interview about the group's recommendations, Bush said that if reform doesn't happen, "we ignore an issue that needs to be solved, which is what do we do with people who are here permanently, who have made contributions, who if given a path to citizenship would do what's right and take the necessary steps to achieve legalized status and citizenship."

However, in a separate op-ed about the task force recommendations, Bush simply said reform should include "a fair and orderly way to allow many of those currently living here illegally to earn the right to remain legally."

Bush stakes position

Last year, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared that he would pursue an immigration policy so austere that illegal immigrants would self-deport.

Bush, meanwhile, continued his call for a "broader approach" to legislation that dealt with issues beyond border security and cracking down on illegal migration. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he made a clear declaration that he favored citizenship.

"You have to deal with this issue. You can't ignore it. And so, either a path to citizenship, which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives; Or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind," he said.

Fast forward past the election. A bipartisan group of senators is working on reform legislation that includes citizenship.

But Bush's book, which reportedly went to the printer in late 2012, split the concepts of citizenship and legal residency. And in print, Bush opposed citizenship and instead proposed "a path to permanent legal resident status."

"Permanent residency in this context, however, should not lead to citizenship. It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship."

Illegal immigrants, he and co-author Clint Bolick wrote, could return to their homeland and apply for citizenship through regular channels.

After immediately catching heat over the book — and how it conflicts with his past position — Bush began softening up.

"We wrote this book last year, not this year, and we proposed a path to legalization, so anybody that had come illegally would have immediately a path to legalization," Bush said on MSNBC.

He added: "If you can craft that in law, where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn't an incentive for people to come illegally, I'm for it. I don't have a problem with that."

Our ruling

Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Bush has made a "flip-flop-flip" on immigration. Here's a quick chronology:

• Early in his political life, Bush said America should "start deporting people."

• Sometime between 2009 and 2012, he "flipped" to being in favor of a path to citizenship. He supported federal legislation in 2007 that allowed children of illegal immigrants to become citizens and wrote that Republicans should adopt a more welcoming approach.

• His "flop" came this month with the release of his book, in which he opposed citizenship, calling it an "undeserving reward" for people who came here illegally.

• That was followed by a quick "flip" back to support of citizenship or permanent legal status.

We rate the claim True.


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