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.
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."
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.
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