In an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal written with Clint Bolick, a lawyer and advocate of school choice, the former Florida governor called for more realistic laws and policies. He supported providing a path to citizenship for young people brought to the United States as children.
Many legislators, especially Republicans, have said they want to stop the flow of illegal immigrants first and then consider changes in the law. But Bush and Bolick argued that illegal and legal immigration are part of a "jigsaw puzzle" and cannot be dealt with independently.
"It is not law enforcement but the law itself that is broken," Bush and Bolick said. "The nation has changed dramatically since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and that legislation has not held up well. It has been patched over so many times that it is hopelessly complex and incoherent. We need to start from scratch."
Bush and Bolick have written a book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," which is scheduled for publication in March.
A bipartisan group of senators who have been working on a new immigration bill since November said Friday they are close to agreement, The Washington Post reported. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supported a 2007 bill backed by President George W. Bush that failed to win support from most Republicans, said the November election has caused a shift in his party.
"Obviously, it's had a very distinct impression," McCain said. "It's time to move forward on this."
In addition to McCain, the senators involved are Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., have joined some of the discussions.
Bush and Bolick said about two-thirds of legal immigrants come through "chain migration," receiving visas because they have family members already in the United States. Others, they said, must either struggle to get a work-related visa or have a one-in-250 shot in a "diversity lottery" that distributes 55,000 visas every year.
"Other nations -- including Canada, New Zealand and even China -- are luring away students, workers and entrepreneurs with more sensible and welcoming immigration policies," Bush and Bolick said. "If we do not adapt, we will be increasingly unable to compete."
President Obama is scheduled to address immigration Tuesday in a speech in Las Vegas.