Jeb Bush’s compassionate message on immigration

Jeb Bush is ushering in the return of the compassionate conservative. Addressing an event where his father, former President George H.W. Bush, was being honored, Jeb said that immigrants who come to this country illegally do so as an “act of love” to put food on the table for their families.

Specifically, the former Florida Governor said: “They came to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It is an act of love.”

Yikes! Jeb has artfully inserted family values into a political issue that has been dogged for years by harsh political rhetoric within his own party. What are faith-based conservatives who are pro-life and pro-family to do now? Likely, they will continue to support immigration reform as they have for the last year in the face of opposition to reform from ideological tea-partiers.

Religious leaders, business and law enforcement officials have long supported an important coalition of “Bible, Badges and Bullets” that seeks meaningful immigration reform. According to a CBS News poll conducted in July 2013, 75 percent of Evangelicals interviewed expressed support for immigration reform that includes a path toward earned citizenship and stricter border control. A similar alliance has been forged between chambers of commerce and unions who rely on temporary work permits and secure identification so that employers can be better assured that the person applying for a job is doing so lawfully.

Bush’s remarks, broadcast on Fox News Sunday, incited an array of comments ranging from Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert who dead-panned, “He will be missed,” to Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who is quoted in Politico saying, “What people like Jeb Bush and others are saying is that we also have no respect for the rule of law, and then we will be turned into the nations that these people are leaving . . . ”

Labrador’s is a particularly striking view coming from an immigration attorney of Puerto Rican origin, but he is representative of that small but powerful faction of the conservative movement that views the world with a very narrow lens. Therein lies Jeb’s first real challenge.

Assuming that he decides to run, Jeb Bush has to get past the Tea Party in a primary. This pre-announcement policy statement is his opening salvo aimed at Tea Party Republicans, strategically intended to wage the battle now in case he runs; this way, it becomes an old, less-interesting issue in the media months from now.

Smart move, because this is not the only issue where he irks Tea Partiers — his support of Common Core also challenges the Right, which views it as a federal government takeover of education.

Affluent Republican donors are courting Jeb Bush and prodding him to throw his hat in the ring. They view him as the only viable candidate who has a strong track record in Florida, speaks Spanish perfectly, is solidly right of center and is a good communicator.

Jeb also has the best chance to challenge Hillary Clinton successfully. Everyone seems to know this except the conservative pundits within his own party who seem more interested in being “correct” than in doing what’s best for the party overall. Their view also ignores the fact that deporting 12 million illegal immigrants is a practical impossibility.

Jeb expressed a compassionate view of what motivates people to risk their lives to come to this country illegally; implicit in that message is that deporting is neither humane nor realistic. It does not imply, as tea partiers believe, that this is his policy for future illegal immigrants. It is a message that unites strange bedfellows among political stakeholders and can do the same among a variety of voting blocks. Being crisp and conciliatory, Jeb is invigorating the Republican Party — an “act of love” they should not refuse.