HOUSTON, Tex. — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was interrupted by pro-immigration reform activists during a speech to Hispanic business leaders here Monday, where he delivered remarks that appeared intent on highlighting the sharp disagreements he has with many of his GOP rivals on the issue.
“Here’s what I believe. I believe we need immigration reform. I’ve been clear about this. I believe that DREAM Act kids should have a path to citizenship,” Bush told the protesters during the address at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conference. “I’ll continue to be consistently for it irrespective of what the political ramifications of that are.”
About a dozen activists stood up near the beginning of his remarks and began chanting, “No hope without our vote!” Bush initially attempted to continue with his prepared speech but decided to address them directly as they grew louder and moved closer to the stage. Some protesters held large signs asking, "Who is the real Jeb Bush?" One sign featured an image of Bush high-fiving Donald Trump during last week's second presidential debate.
Although the protesters were escorted out by security, Bush quickly returned to the topic of immigration reform, knocking members of his party who have centered their immigration reform platforms on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that such an approach and mass deportation would cost too much money.
“[W]e don’t need to build a wall. We don’t need to deport every person that’s in this country. That would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, that’s not a conservative plan,” said Bush to huge applause. “That won’t solve the problems. Giving people a chance to earn legal status would be a far better approach.”
Bush — whose wife Columba is Mexican American and who describes his family as “bi-cultural” — has made reaching out to Hispanic voters central to his campaign. But his support for a comprehensive immigration plan that would provide a path to legal status for the the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States has been politically fraught, sharply derided by his foes on the right and frequently cited as one of his greatest obstacles in securing the GOP nomination. He acknowledged as much several times throughout his speech: “This apparently is somewhat out of the mainstream temporarily in my party, but it isn’t, really. A great majority of Republicans believe in immigration reform,” he said.
Although he did not directly name any other candidates, Bush’s remarks appeared intended to draw a contrast with GOP front-runner Donald Trump, whose controversial comments on Mexican immigrants have stirred anxiety among party leaders worried about alienating Latino voters, a key voting bloc in the 2016 general election.
“It’s not when we divide people and call people idiots or call people not successful, it’s when we embrace the American experience to the fullest, that this country takes off,” Bush said.