Bush has taken a somewhat softer stance on immigration in the past than some in his party and in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, he called for exercising "compassion" with respect to the children fleeing violence in Central America.
He and Clint Bolick, his co-author on the 2013 book, Immigration Wars, support changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that requires officials to hand unaccompanied minors over to the Department of Health and Human Services pending a hearing before an immigration judge so that the children can be more quickly processed and repatriated.
But Bush also warned congressional Republicans not to miss the forest for the trees, urging them to recognize that any solutions now will only be temporary without passing comprehensive immigration reform as well.
"Preventing similar crises in the future begins with making our immigration system fair and effective now," he wrote. "A chief reason so many people are entering through the back door, so to speak, is that the front door is shut."
"Unlike every other country, we do not have an immigration system as much as we have a family-reunification system. Nearly two-thirds of the one million lawful immigrants admitted into the U.S. each year do so through family preferences. That means that unless someone seeking to immigrate has a relative in America or can squeeze into the relative handful of available work-related or asylum visas, the only way they can enter is illegally.
"The best antidote to illegal immigration is a functioning system of legal immigration. We must rebuild one that is economically driven—for example, looking for those whose skills and drive will make a difference—in our national interest and true to our immigrant heritage.
"President Obama has promised to once again act unilaterally if Congress fails to take up immigration reform. Now is the time for House Republicans to demonstrate leadership on this issue. Congress should not use the present crisis as an excuse to defer comprehensive immigration reform."
The influx of more than 52,000 children at the southwest border has all but sunk the chances of comprehensive immigration reform this year, and President Obama has promised to act unilaterally where he can.
But Democrats, and some Republicans, say that demographic changes in the U.S. means that unless the GOP can improve its standing with minorities -- by helping to pass immigration reform -- it may find itself in the political wilderness for years to come.