Bush on immigration debate: Keep ‘benevolent spirit’

Former president George W. Bush, whose push for comprehensive immigration reform failed in 2007, urged lawmakers on Wednesday to keep a "benevolent spirit" as they debate new legislation to overhaul the nation's border control laws.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 20 new U.S. citizens at the Bush Institute in Dallas, Bush said he would not get involved in the politics or policy of the current debate on Capitol Hill. Rather, he spoke of the contributions immigrants have made throughout U.S. history.

"I do hope there is a positive resolution to the debate and I hope during the debate that we keep a benevolent spirit in mind and we understand the contributions immigrants make to country," Bush said outside his presidential library. "The vast majority are decent people who work hard, believe in their faith and lead responsible lives. Immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation."

The remarks were the second time in a week that the former president has weighed in on immigration. The comments come as lawmakers negotiate over a high-stakes Senate plan to provide a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants, add new border control measures and revamp the visa system for high-tech and low-skilled workers.

House Republicans have said they will not take up the Senate bill, which passed two weeks ago, and are instead working on a series of smaller proposals that, for now, do not include a path to citizenship.

Some Republican leaders have said the party must support broad immigration reform to help woo back support from Latino and Asian voters in the wake of GOP nominee Mitt Romney's loss to President Obama last fall.

Bush, who supported an unsuccessful proposal in 2007 that would have given undocumented immigrants the legal right to stay in the country and pursue full citizenship, said last week during a trip to Tanzania that Republicans should "fix a system that's broken" rather than worry about the politics.

On Wednesday in Dallas, he did not directly address the issue of illegal immigration, but he said he believed it was possible to "uphold that tradition" of welcoming people from abroad.

"We're also a nation of laws and America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," Bush said.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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