Bush, a longtime proponent of immigration changes, surprised many immigrant advocates this week with the publication of a long-awaited book on the topic. In the book, he advocates allowing the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to seek permanent legal residency in the United States, but not citizenship.
That issue has already shaped up to be one of the key dividing lines in the Congressional debate over immigration. Illustrating the shifting ground, Bush has given several interviews as part of the book roll-out further revising his position and indicating that he could, in fact, support a path to citizenship.
In a statement of principles published in January, the eight-member Senate group endorsed a path to citizenship, but a number of House Republicans have objected.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the group, said he was “surprised” by Bush’s proposal, particularly since it comes from a governor who had long been out front on the need for an immigration overhaul and is well-liked in the Hispanic community.
He argued members of the Republican party who believe it is amnesty to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country will not be appeased by denying them eventual citizenship.
“From a policy point of view, I don’t think it’s the right approach. I don’t like the idea of having millions of people here for their entire life without being able to assimilate into America,” he said. “From a political point of view, we’ve got 55 Democrats sent and a 72 percent support for a path to citizenship. It’s just not practical to think we’ll be able to pass any bill in the United States Senate without a path to citizenship.”
Behind the scenes, advocates and congressional sources familiar with the negotiations say the path to citizenship is not the trickiest issue facing the Senate group, which has been working to translate a joint statement of principles into a bill since January,
They say the more difficult issue for the Senate group has been how to structure a low-skill visa for temporary workers, an issue that has helped stymie past efforts to rewrite immigration laws.
Though the group has been meeting two to three times a week, it has not yet been able to resolve the difficult topic.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka came to the Hill on Tuesday to meet with the gang’s four Democratic members, as the two sides shuttle proposals for the low-skill visa program back and forth between the unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Senate aide said.