Do Jeb Bush’s ‘act of love’ comments hint immigration tone for 2016?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sparked controversy earlier this month when he said that many people who come to the United States unlawfully do so…

Jeb Bush is taking some heat from conservatives who disagree with his latest comments on immigration. At the same time, he is receiving support from some of his Republican colleagues. (Flickr/Rollins College/Scott Cook)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sparked controversy earlier this month when he said that many people who come to the United States unlawfully do so as an “act of love” for their families.

“They crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family,” he said at an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of his father’s presidency. “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.”

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Bush is weighing a run for president in 2016. But his recent immigration comments set off a furor of criticism from conservatives and tea party members who want a presidential candidate with a tough stance on immigration, which begs the question: Will Bush’s comments hurt his chances of becoming the 2016 Republican presidential nominee?

Jeb Bush’s comments indicate new tone on immigration reform

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, doesn’t seem to think so. Instead, he said Bush’s comments indicate how GOP presidential candidates are going to talk about immigration reform in the 2016.

“The narrative over immigration in the 2016 primary is going to be very different from 2012,” Aguilar told VOXXI. “We’re already staring to see that from the comments of potential candidates.”

He noted that besides Bush, Sen.Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is another potential Republican presidential candidate who is speaking about immigration reform in a new way.

Ryan recently said the GOP has to “get beyond deportation” and get the issue of immigration reform right in order to court Latino voters and win elections. And like Bush, Paul supports allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.

Paul is also one of the Republicans who’ve come out in support of Bush’s immigration comments. The Kentucky Republican told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Bush “might have been more artful, maybe, in the way he presented this” but that he wasn’t “terrible” for making the comments.

SEE ALSO: Is Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush the GOP Latino formula?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another potential presidential candidate, also said he agrees with Bush’s comments. In an interview with Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” last week, Rubio said Bush was trying to call attention to “the human element of immigration” with his comments.

Most recently, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehitnen (R-Fla.) came out in support of Bush. She told The Hill on Monday that if Bush decides to run for president in 2016, “I’m with him.”

At the same time, Bush has also received criticism from some conservative Republicans and tea party members for his stance on immigration and his recent comments.

For example, Donald Trump mocked Bush’s latest immigration comments while speaking Saturday at the Freedom Summit in New Hampshire. Some political pundits have also said Bush has no chance of making it through the 2016 primaries given that many Republicans are looking for a presidential candidate who has a tougher stance on immigration.

Jeb Bush’s comments are “very well received by Latino voters”

But Aguilar sees things differently. He said polling data shows that most Republicans, including many conservatives, who vote in the primaries “are not against immigration.” Instead, he said many of them support immigration reform with a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

The problem, he said, is that “restrictionist groups” have been successful in encouraging Republican candidates to “move to the extreme right on immigration.”

“I think candidates have to overcome that and realize that being good on this issue … does not mean that you’re going to lose your base,” Aguilar told VOXXI.

Aguilar also pointed to Bush’s latest comments on immigration as an example of the type of language that is going to attract Latino voters in the 2016 presidential election. He described Bush’s immigration comments as being “very well received by Latino voters.”

“To be viable in a general election, you need more support from Latino voters,” he said. “We clearly saw that in 2012.”

SEE ALSO: Jeb Bush is considered a Hispanic among Latino leaders

Daniel Garza, executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, agreed with Aguilar. He said that when Latinos hear candidates include Latinos in their political narrative, “then the impression is that they’re going to include them in their policy solutions.”

“And I think Jeb Bush gives you that impression,” Garza told VOXXI.

Garza added that Republicans have been “much more wise” in the way they speak about immigration reform. He noted that ever since Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received 27 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 election, the GOP has been increasing its efforts to engage with Latino voters.

A number of Republicans have also rejected the “self-deportation” language used by Romney in 2012 and have softened their tone on immigration. And as many as 30 House Republicans have come out in support of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

As for Bush’s latest immigration comments, Garza said they “sparked off a new round of conversation” over immigration reform, which he said “contributes to advancing the cause.”

“This will help him in the future if he decides to run for president obviously with the Hispanic community, but I think also with non-Hispanics because the majority of people want immigration reform and are looking to move from the status quo,” Garza said, referring to Bush’s comments. “But I think more specifically, his comments speak to his heart.”

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