Former president George W. Bush, making a rare public appearance on Monday, greeted new U.S. citizens and described immigration as “a blessing and a strength,” a message that sharply contrasts with President Trump’s rhetoric on the issue.

Bush made the remarks at a naturalization ceremony at the Bush Institute in Dallas. More than four dozen immigrants from 22 countries were sworn in during the ceremony, at which former first lady Laura Bush also delivered remarks.

“America’s elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in and when,” the former president said. “In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America’s immigrant history made us who we are. Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength.”

Bush, who left office in 2009, said that he regretted that his administration’s efforts at comprehensive immigration reform “came up short.” He urged policymakers in Washington to “dial down the rhetoric” and work toward modernizing the country’s immigration laws.

“The United States of America is the most successful of nations,” Bush said. “Historically, where immigration is concerned, we’re also the most welcoming of nations. And these two facts are related.”

Bush’s remarks come days after Trump vetoed a congressional resolution disapproving of his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the event where he issued the veto on Friday, Trump appeared in the Oval Office flanked by supportive sheriffs and families of Americans killed by immigrants in the country illegally. He has repeatedly warned about caravans of migrants headed toward the United States and has argued that there is a crisis at the border. In a tweet ahead of his veto, he claimed that a border wall will “help stop Crime, Human Trafficking, and Drugs entering our Country.”

Bush struck a welcoming tone in his speech, applauding the new citizens and remarking that those who seek to begin a new life in the United States often “bring a special love of freedom, because they have seen how life works without it.”

“You paid America the high tribute of aspiring to live here, leaving behind familiar ways and places and accepting a process that everyone knows is not easy,” Bush said. “Our country in return honored your efforts and soon will be honored to call you a citizen.”

His remarks drew praise from Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.), who shared a clip from Bush’s speech on Twitter afternoon.

“Common sense immigration reform shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Allred said in the tweet. “Thank you to #TX32 resident President George W. Bush for speaking out on the value immigrants provide to our nation. Congress must work together on comprehensive reform and fix this broken system.”


Former president George W. Bush in 2014. (LM Otero/AP)

Anne Gearan contributed to this report.