Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush set off a firestorm when he said people who come to America illegally to provide a better life for their families are committing "an act of love."
In an interview early in April, Bush said: "Someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally, 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's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family."
While his wording may have been too strong for many Americans to stomach, he is a hero in my eyes to suggest that we should not demonize undocumented immigrants.
The truth is that these "illegals" pass the first litmus test of being an American: They want to be here! While their illegal action is not condonable, I agree with Bush that it is not the worst possible crime.
Ronald Reagan shared the same view, and proved it when in the late 1980s, he gave millions of illegals in the United States full amnesty.
I am not calling for that now, nor is Jeb Bush. But some pundits have written Bush's presidential chances off, since he has come out so vociferously on a more humane approach to the issue.
I take a different view and predict Bush will continue to rise in the 2016 GOP polls because he has demonstrated the courage to take a positive stand that thinking conservatives can come together on.
For sure, Americans across the board want to deal with the illegal immigration problem.
And conservatives, I think, are very open to the idea of immigration reform. The first step would be for undocumented workers to be registered and begin paying taxes. They also need to be identified for law enforcement purposes.
It is premature to talk about citizenship. Legislation providing illegal immigrants with an immediate path to citizenship is going too far at this time.
Let's take small steps first, see what level of compliance we get from new workers paying their taxes and the impact of this policy on new immigration.
Like many conservatives, I am angry that our borders are still not secure. In the wake of 9/11, the idea that we are probed and prodded at every airport in the country, while at the same time anyone can simply walk across the border, seems unfathomable.
There is growing evidence that our borders are not only porous, but Mexico's organized crime problem is spilling over into the United States.
Meanwhile, states along the border with Mexico are being swamped by illegals and overwhelmed by demands on their social service systems.
The general public sympathizes with efforts to integrate illegals into the country. Exit poll data from the 2012 presidential election revealed that 65 percent of voters believe most illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance at legal status, compared to just 28 percent who say they should be deported.
Opening our arms to immigrants, even ones here illegally, is also smart politics for the GOP, which must remain true to the ideals of Lincoln.
As we deal with the illegals problem, we also need a sane immigration policy that allows the "best and brightest" from around the world to legally come to the United States and remain here. The United States needs more trained workers, but we keep back the very skilled immigrants while turning a blind eye to those crossing the border without documents.
Republicans, by and large, want a positive immigration policy. Polling data also shows that Latinos are natural Republican voters — they are entrepreneurial, favor lower taxes, and have strong family values. It is critical for the GOP to support immigration reform in order to attract these voters.
When George W. Bush narrowly won re-election to the White House in 2004, he received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
But in 2012, Mitt Romney came out with a policy that was simply untenable — self-deportation — and he received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.
The country's demographics are changing, with the Hispanic vote growing, and some people's views about immigration need to change. And the Republicans need to stop being the party of no and start being the party of yes, with policies that breed inclusiveness while remaining consistent with core principles.
A new openness will help the GOP not just with Latinos, but with all immigrant groups. For example, Republicans used to win a large percentage of the Asian-American vote. But in the last election, Obama garnered a whopping 73 percent of that vote to Romney's 26 percent.
One more telling number: A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 76 percent of Americans now believe is it important for Congress and the president to pass significant new immigration legislation this year.
Republicans should capitalize on this trend as we head into the 2014 elections — and the 2016 presidential race.
Congress and the president can begin by taking small steps: Register, tax, and identify the undocumented as the border is finally secured. Then let's talk about next steps.
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Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc. Read more Christopher Ruddy Insider articles — Click Here Now.
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