Bush wades into immigration debate, says immigrants ‘invigorate our soul’

Former President George W. Bush made a rare foray into public policy on Tuesday when he urged the nation's leaders to take a "benevolent" approach to reforming the nation's immigration system.

Bush, who has maintained a low political profile since departing office four years ago, spoke briefly about immigration at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, a talk that was part of a daylong conference on immigration and the economy.

"America can become a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," Bush said, according to the Texas Tribune. "As our nation debates the proper course of action on immigration reform, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contributions of immigrants.

"Not only do immigrants help build the economy, they invigorate our soul," Bush added.

Bush has said one of his major regrets about his presidency is that he did not manage to pass immigration reform. In 2007, he hammered out a deal that would have put millions of illegal immigrants in the country on a lengthy path to citizenship. The measure died in the Senate when Bush couldn't persuade enough members of his own party to vote to consider it.

Immigration reform is again a hot topic in Congress after President Barack Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in November. Some leading Republicans have said the party must address reform in order to stay competitive with the growing demographic. Last week, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced a bill that would give young illegal immigrants visas if they join the military. So far, it's faced criticism from immigrant groups, who say they won't accept reform bills that don't provide full citizenship.