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WASHINGTON – Former President George W. Bush reflected on the importance of immigrants to the United States, arguing for solutions to the nation's ongoing immigration debates, in a Sunday op-ed for the Washington Post.

The former president advocated for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, while calling for stronger border security.

While he opposes providing a pathway to citizenship for the country's 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, Bush said that they should be “brought out of the shadows through a gradual process in which legal residency and citizenship must be earned” through work and service requirements, as well as proof of English-language proficiency.

“The help and respect historically accorded to new arrivals is one reason so many people still aspire and wait to become Americans. So how is it that in a country more generous to new arrivals than any other, immigration policy is the source of so much rancor and ill will?” Bush asked in his op-ed.

“The short answer is that the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party. And no proposal on immigration will have credibility without confidence that our laws are carried out consistently and in good faith,” argued the nation's 43rd president, who rarely weighs in on political matters since he left office in 2009.

The former president's column accompanies by years-long project titled “Out of Many, One,” a series of paintings of immigrants to the United States and chronicles of their life stories compiled in a new book. Bush says the project seeks to “humanize the debate on immigration and reform.”

Bush's op-ed touched on a series of potential reforms to the immigration system, including offering a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and a call for greater border security. 

“Over the years, our instincts have always tended toward fairness and generosity. The reward has been generations of grateful, hard-working, self-reliant, patriotic Americans who came here by choice,” Bush wrote. 

“If we trust those instincts in the current debate, then bipartisan reform is possible. And we will again see immigration for what it is: not a problem and source of discord, but a great and defining asset of the United States,” the former president contended.

"Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants" includes 43 portraits by the 43rd president, four-color paintings of immigrants he has come to know over the years

15 years ago, a big push for immigration reform 

The former president made immigration a large part of his second-term agenda, giving a major 2006 speech laying out his vision for a strict but welcoming immigration system.

“We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals,” Bush said.

“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair,” he argued, laying out a five-point vision for more stringent border security, temporary worker visa programs and policies “helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans.”

Former President George W. Bush speaks during the funeral service for the late Rep. John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, July 30, 2020.

In 2007, the former president unsuccessfully pushed for an overhaul of the US immigration system, and has said that failure to act on immigration is one of the great regrets of his presidency. 

“A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find common ground. It didn’t work,” Bush said after his immigration reform effort collapsed when he was unable to persuade enough Republican senators to join him to break the Senate filibuster.

The former president told “CBS Sunday Morning” that failing to pass one of the biggest regrets of his presidency that he didn’t get immigration reform done. “I campaigned on immigration reform, I made it abundantly clear to voters this is something I intend to do.”

Asked if he wanted to be involved in the immigration debate, Bush replied, “I hope I can help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant which may lead to reform of the system.”

Bush noted executive orders on immigration just show “Congress isn’t doing its job.”