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Bush: ‘Benevolent spirit’ must drive reforms

DALLAS — Making a rare return to the political arena, former President George W. Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to reach a “positive resolution” on immigration reform, an issue that eluded him during his presidency and now confronts fellow Republicans in the aftermath of a 2012 election drubbing.

In brief remarks at a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas, Bush avoided wading into the merits of specific legislation pending in Congress, but said it was important for lawmakers to recognize the benefits of immigration to the nation’s future.

While he didn’t directly endorse a Senate-approved plan his comments suggested the need for Republicans to deal with immigration reform in a broad way.

“I don’t intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there’s a positive resolution to the debate,” he said. “And I hope, during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country.”

The former president spoke as House Republicans consider how they should respond to comprehensive immigration reform approved last month by the Senate. Some Republicans have said the party needs to help fashion immigration reform following President Barack Obama’s sweeping victory in the 2012 elections among Latino voters. But many House Republicans remain unconvinced that endorsing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants would be the right approach.

Bush helped make inroads with the growing population of Hispanic voters during his presidency but Republicans have since lost ground and some worry it could irreparably harm their ability to win future elections.

The former president has largely avoided the political spotlight since leaving the White House in January 2009 but has advocated for immigration reform in the past. During his second term, he pushed for similar legislation that would have given immigrants living in the United States unlawfully a pathway to citizenship.

In his comments, Bush noted the importance of upholding current immigration laws. “We’re also a nation of laws. And we must enforce our laws. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” he said.

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