WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush writes in a new book that Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration that it proved "all but impossible'' for the Republican presidential nominee to appeal to Hispanic voters last year.
He says the U.S. needs to completely overhaul its immigration policies but cautions against providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
In "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,'' Bush writes that the immigration debate holds serious consequences for the nation and members of his Republican party, calling fellow Republicans "remarkably tone-deaf when it comes to courting Hispanic voters, to the extent they court them at all.'' If the GOP fails to change, he says the influence of Hispanic voters "will doom'' the party's future.
Bush is the son and brother of former U.S. presidents who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, speculation he has tried to tamp down, although he is going across the country to promote his book and will address conservatives at a Conservative Political Action Conference later this month. Jeb Bush's wife Columba was born in Mexico.
The book, to be released Tuesday, arrives as President Barack Obama and Congress consider the revamping of the nation's immigration laws following Obama's re-election, in which the growing Hispanic electorate went overwhelmingly for the president. In the primary elections leading up to his nomination, Romney suggested that illegal immigrants self deport themselves to their countries of origin.
Bush's newly articulated view may not affect the debate in Congress where a group of bipartisan senators aim to release comprehensive immigration legislation this month, but it underscores the tricky path many Republicans are trying to navigate as they work to address the problem of illegal immigration in a way that's acceptable to the conservative Republican electorate.
A number of House Republicans wary of allowing out-and-out citizenship to illegal immigrants, criticized by some as amnesty, also have discussed granting legal status short of citizenship to them instead. But that position is rejected as unacceptable by immigration activists.
Bush and co-author Clint Bolick, an attorney and vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, contend immigration reform is essential to economic growth and the nation's future but must be governed by the rule of law.
Bush writes that lawmakers should create a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. and agree to plead guilty to a crime of illegal entry. But unlike a bipartisan Senate proposal pushed by fellow Florida Republican Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants and also a possible presidential candidate in 2016, and others, Bush says tougher border security should not be a prerequisite and a pathway to legal status should not include citizenship for those who entered illegally as adults.
Bush said offering a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. could encourage more illegal immigration and undermine the nation's laws. "It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences,'' he wrote.
The approach marked an apparent reversal for Bush, who said in an interview in June 2012 that, "You have to deal with this issue. You can't ignore it, and so either a path to citizenship, which I would support, and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives, or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind.''
Immigration activists pounced on Bush's shift. Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, said Bush's approach would lead to a "permanent underclass'' for a mostly Latino group of workers.
Jaryn Emhof, a Bush spokeswoman, said Bush had not changed his position and his goal was “to create a path to bring individuals out of the shadows.''
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican and member of the bipartisan group, said he was " bit perplexed'' when he learned of Bush's comments opposing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. "I was disappointed to see it, but I don't think it'll change the dynamics much,'' Flake said.
Bush's policy prescriptions include an exception for young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. They could earn their citizenship if they earn a high school degree or volunteer for military service.
Beyond the current debate, Bush faults Republicans with not offering a more inclusive message to Hispanics during the 2012 campaign. He says Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration that it proved "all but impossible'' for the Republican presidential nominee to appeal to Hispanic voters last year.
In the book, Bush blames both parties for a lack of leadership and courage on pursuing immigration reform. He accuses Obama of breaking a campaign promise to enact immigration reform during his first year, "which he easily could have accomplished given commanding Democratic majorities in Congress.'' On the right, he says many lawmakers "denounce as `amnesty' any proposal that falls short of the deportation of all illegal immigrants.''
Bush's own brother George W. Bush tried but failed during the final years of his presidency to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress.
In an interview with NBC's "Today,'' Bush said he wants to "share my beliefs about how the conservative movement and the Republican Party can regain its footing, because we've lost our way.'' He declined to rule out a run in 2016, but said with a smile, "I won't declare today, either.''
*Pictured above is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.