In the middle of a quizzing about his presidential ambitions on Fox News last Sunday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush made an empathetic remark about the millions of people who live in the country illegally--and cued some predictable ranting from his party. Bush's risky stance is, basically, that anyone should be able to summon sympathy for those who come to the U.S. to provide for their families. Illegal immigration is “not a felony. ... It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family,” Bush said. “There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.” Bush seemed to be urging moral decency, not progressive policy--and anyone who read his 2013 book on immigration knows he does not support a path to citizenship.
Bush isn't the first Republican to profess compassion for the illegal population in recent years. As the remarks from his colleagues show, revealing a soft spot on immigration doesn't always suggest an intention to act on the broken system. Still, here are a few of the other Republicans who have called attention to the moral weight of the immigration debate in recent years.
In a presidential debate in 2011, Perry said if his rivals opposed letting children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition at public colleges, "I don't think you have a heart." The tame comment made him a target for his opponents, especially Mitt Romney, who said, “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart... It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
McCain, a co-author of the Senate immigration bill that is currently going nowhere due to the House of Representatives, continues to issue reminders to his party that immigration reform is fast becoming an existential necessity. "In states like mine, the demographics will only overtake and throughout the whole southwest," he said on Candy Crowley's "State of the Union" in Febuary.
Snyder of Michigan has called himself "probably among the most pro-immigration governors in the country." He said in Febuary, "I'm a Republican and I'm happy to help lead the charge." He hopes a plan to bring highly-skilled immigrant workers to Detroit could revitalize the suffering city.
The former Arkansas governor and Fox News host, in his 2008 run for president, defended his immigration record in his home state, particularly the merit scholarships he made available to children of illegal parents. "We’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did,” he said.
Though the New Jersey governor's 2016 dreams may be toast, he's one of the presidential hopefuls who has taken a real stance on immigration. After some tweaks, he signed a bill to give students brought to the country illegally in-state tuition in December, proclaiming, "This is what compromise looks like."