Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visited a city on the U.S.-Mexico border Monday and said new fencing won’t make the border more secure, as he blasted GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s proposed wall and other get-tough policies as “unrealistic.”
Mr. Bush called Mr. Trump a “serious candidate” and said he welcomed the billionaire businessman’s input on the issue, but said his new six-page immigration plan should be judged on its merits and there it breaks conservative principles.
“It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It will violate people’s civil liberties. It will create friction with our third largest trading partner that is not necessary and I think he is wrong about this,” he told reporters during a visit to McAllen, Texas.
He said his own plan would rely on a virtual fence — a concept pioneered by his brother, former President George W. Bush, that uses technology to try to detect and deter illegal crossers. He also called for better coordination between the Border Patrol and local authorities.
Just hours earlier, Mr. Trump had said it was good Mr. Bush was on the border because he could see the error of his statement last year that illegal immigrants were committing an “act of love” in jumping the border.
“I was down on the border,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox and Friends” of his recent visit to Laredo, Texas. “It is rough, tough, stuff. This is not love. This is other things going on, and I think he will be able to figure that out — maybe.”
Mr. Trump’s entry into the race has driven immigration to be one of the top issues facing GOP voters, but it’s also exposed deep rifts within the Republican field, and some party consultants fear the forceful rhetoric could chase away voters in a general election.
Mr. Trump’s plan calls for building a border wall and forcing Mexico to pick up the tab; requiring illegal immigrants to return home to apply for re-entry into the U.S. legally; and scrapping the policy of granting automatic citizenship to almost every person born in the U.S., including to illegal immigrant mothers.
Mr. Trump went on to describe the children born here to illegal immigrants as “anchor babies” — sparking outrage from Democrats and immigration rights activists.
Mr. Bush waded into on the birthright citizenship debate last week, calling for “greater enforcement” of people that “abuse” birthright citizenship.
“That’s [the] legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country,” Mr. Bush said.
He defended his use of the term in a press conference at the border Monday, asking combative reporters what term they would suggest he use.
“My background, my life, the fact that I have been immersed in the immigrant experience, this is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I am using a derogatory term,” said Mr. Bush, who met his wife Columba while teaching English as a teenager in Mexico and fielded questions in both English and Spanish.
Mr. Bush said when he uses the controversial term, he is talking about fraudulent cases where immigrants are purposely taking advantage of the “noble concept with birthright citizenship.” He said many of the cases involve Asians.
“I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness,” he said.
The Democratic National Committee blasted Mr. Bush’s use of the “vile term.”
“This latest comment from Bush shows just how out of touch he is,” said K.J. Bagchi, director of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Engagement.
The Clinton camp also released an online video, suggesting Mr. Bush and Mr. Trump are basically the same when it comes to immigration.
Polling shows Mr. Bush is running near the front of GOP field, but he has lost some ground in Iowa and New Hampshire.
His drop has coincided with the rise of Mr. Trump, who has raced past Mr. Bush, despite the fact that the former Florida governor and his allied super PAC have raised more than $114 million for his campaign.