Former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are calling on conservatives to support an overhaul of the immigration system, maintaining that both high-skilled and low-wage immigrant workers are critical to economic growth.
Taking part in a panel discussion on Thursday at the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., the two Republicans said they supported the immigration bill being debated in the Senate, The New York Times reports.
A main sticking points for conservatives, though, is the bill's provision for creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
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Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., reportedly said this week on the Senate floor that the legislation would bring an influx of foreign workers that "would be disastrous for the wages and job prospects of U.S. workers."
But Bush, a potential presidential contender in 2016, said he disagrees and is advising Republican lawmakers to shift their focus from illegal immigration to the question of "how do you create a strategy of sustained economic growth."
"That is a winning conversation in conservative America for sure," he said.
Bush said he agreed with the Senate bill's plan for a 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which mandates that they learn English and pay back taxes and fines. He said the plan "reaches the proper balance" between the rule of law and the country's heritage of welcoming immigrants.
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