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George W Bush, the former US president, has painted portraits of 43 immigrants that will be released in a controversial new book about immigration.
The 74-year-old has painted portraits of 43 immigrants and written their stories in "Out of Many, One" but has come under fire after critics pointed to his record as president which included setting up the scandal–plagued Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The media blitz includes an op-ed in the Washington Post, a ‘virtual conversation’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger, an appearance on a late-night talk show and interviews with several major broadcasters.
The hobbyist painter has previously created a number of works on world leaders and military veterans but has now turned his focus to immigrants in America, trying to “humanise” the debate.
“I do want to say to Congress, 'Please put aside all the harsh rhetoric about immigration, “ he said in an interview with CBS. “'Please put aside trying to score political points on either side.' I hope I can help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant, which may lead to reform of the system."
But Mr Bush has already taken a swipe at the current immigration system in the United States, calling it “broken.”
A statement on the Bush Centre website says: “Every year that goes by without reforming our broken immigration system means missed opportunities to ensure the future prosperity, vitality, and security of our nation.”
Mr Bush has put forward a number of suggestions for how the system can be reformed, including the creation of a more efficient temporary foreign worker entry programme, a "rigorous, fair process for undocumented immigrants" and further investment in physical border security.
“We need a secure and efficient border, and we should apply all the necessary resources — manpower, physical barriers, advanced technology, streamlined and efficient ports of entry, and a robust legal immigration system — to assure it,” he wrote in the Washington Post.
Critics of the former president have called the attempt to portray Mr Bush as a champion of immigrants as “almost beyond belief.”
His record includes the Iraq War, which was deemed illegal by the UN, and the use of what Congress called the “brutal and sadistic” torture of terror suspects.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was created in 2003 and the Bush administration removed 819,964 illegal immigrants from the country during the last six years of his presidency.
By comparison, the Trump administration only removes 325,660 people from the US interior during his four years in office, according to the Cato Institute.
Jackson Lears, a history professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and editor of the journal Raritan Quarterly, told the Guardian: “It’s almost beyond belief that he would be celebrated for that or any other kind of humane gestures of inclusion and tolerance.
“I’m hoping there’ll be some pushback against this because I think it’s an absolute scandal that man should be rehabilitated and tarted up as in any way progressive.”