- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Former President George W. Bush warned Washington politicians Wednesday not to engage in a bitter immigration debate, hours before his former party colleagues in the House were set to meet to hash out a strategy to deal with the thorny issue.

“I don’t intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but 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 our country,” Mr. Bush said at the Bush Institute in Dallas.

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Mr. Bush, who served as president from 2001 to 2009, repeatedly tried to get Congress to pass a broad immigration bill that would legalize illegal immigrants, but he was stymied each time — chiefly by Republicans who said that would amount to granting amnesty to law-breakers.

In the middle of the 2006 and 2007 debates Mr. Bush warned of anti-immigrant voices within the GOP, sparking a bitter divide that still lasts.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bush highlighted the legal side of immigration, hosting a naturalization ceremony for 20 people who were being sworn in as Americans.

He pointed to several successful immigrants through the two centuries of American history and said immigration “brings a renewal to our national character and adds vitality to our culture.”

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He also said, though, that the current immigration system is broken, and said there must be a way to meld two competing principles of American society: that it is a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.

“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” he said.

Many within his own party reject that notion, and that split is expected to play out later Wednesday

Senate Republicans generally support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but are divided over the conditions that must be met before that legalization happens.

But in the House, many in the GOP reject a pathway to citizenship, arguing that the focus should be on enforcing the laws on the books.

House Republicans are slated to gather for a closed-door meeting at Wednesday to talk about how to handle the issue.