Jeb Bush: No path to citizenship in immigration reform

The former Florida governor proposes non-citizen permanent residency instead

Published March 4, 2013 8:45PM (EST)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday that he does not support a pathway to citizenship as a part of immigration reform plans under consideration in Congress. Bush, in a new book co-authored by libertarian lawyer Clint Bolnick, argues for giving a path to legal permanent residency to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

"It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences -- in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship," Bush and lawyer Clint Bolick argue in a new book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution." The former governor repeated this line on the "Today" show Monday, noting, "Our proposal is a proposal that looks forward. And if we want to create an immigration policy that's going to work, we can't continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration."

Bush, as reiterated to the Miami Herald Monday, stands against the hawkish "self-deportation" position taken up by Mitt Romney in his shift rightward on immigration during the election campaign (a shift that alienated Hispanic voters). But Bush's support for legalization in opposition to special citizenship pathways constitutes a drift from his previously positions. In June 2012 he told Charlie Rose that he "would support" a path to citizenship.

As Elise Foley at HuffPo notes, when it comes to Dreamers -- those who illegally entered the country as minors -- Bush and Bolnick leave room for a special immigration path. They argue citizenship should be granted to people who entered the country under the age of 18, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, committed no "significant crimes" and either graduated from high school, obtained a GED or entered military service.

There is good reason that a number of Republicans and most Democrats have instead pushed for a pathway to citizenship within immigration reform. As Igor Volsky noted at Think Progress, Bush's permanent resident proposal entails that "unauthorized immigrants would face the choice of remaining in the country without all of the rights and privileges of citizenship or abandoning their jobs, families, and communities to travel back to a native country that they haven’t seen in years. At least 4.5 million native-born U.S.-citizen children who 'have at least one unauthorized parent' could be separated from their mother or father."

For Reihan Salam at the National Review, this ultimatum seems entirely "appropriate" in order that illegal immigration to the United States is not presented as an appealing path to citizenship. Salam is fair to call foul on "advocates [who] refer to something like permanent non-citizen resident status — which, keep in mind, allows people who overstayed their visas or illegally crossed the border as adults to become lawful permanent residents ahead of millions of other aspiring immigrants — as a form of slavery, which is a pretty grave insult to those who have been and continue to be enslaved or indentured, or to their descendants."

But there are important and damaging implications when the best-case scenario offered to millions of people already living in the United States is to opt for a legal category with diminished privileges and rights. Salam is right that permanent residency in the country is already highly prized by many -- I myself am a lucky green-card holder. But non-citizen permanent residents, like felons, are not permitted to vote or run for office and, importantly, can have their residency revoked if certain crimes are committed. Denaturalization of citizens, by contrast, is close to impossible. Bush's proposal would thus keep millions of immigrants in a permanently precarious position and unnecessarily so when reasonable pathway to citizenship options are on the table.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Citizenship Clint Bolnick Illegal Immigrants Immigration Reform Jeb Bush Permanent Residency