The comments by the 43rd President — who has recently critiqued the modern GOP with a candor that has been unusual for him in retirement — speak to a rift in the party that has one side urging a doubling-down on former President Donald Trump’s brand of nativist politics and another that wants to return to the more traditional GOP that Bush once led.
Bush, who lives in Texas, has for years highlighted the immigrant community in his home state and has often praised America’s immigrant history while advocating for immigration policies.
“I fully understand the populist angst that comes with the immigration debate,” he told The Dispatch on Friday.
Bush, who has experienced immigrants for years in Texas and embraces immigration, said he can understand why those without that experience might feel differently.
“One reason I can see it is because I studied history and I, you know, I remember the Know-Nothing Party, fiercely anti-immigrant. I remember the immigration policy of the 20’s: ‘too many Jews and Italians.’ Therefore we had zero immigrants, except for, of course, on the Texas border, where immigrants were always coming in to help, you know, the cattle raisers and the farmers. But yeah, I fully understand it. And I don’t cast aspersion. But I also know that without those immigrants, the economies of those areas would be, you know, paltry,” Bush told The Dispatch.
“The purpose of responsible policymakers is to say, ‘Look, we fully understand where you’re coming from,’ ” he said, adding that policymakers should also shed light on the “positive contributions these citizens can make.”
“It’s a natural phenomenon and it’s not a onetime experience in our country,” Bush said. “We’ve been having these spasms of anxiety for a long period of time. On the other hand, a confident nation says, ‘E pluribis unum.’ “
CNN’s Chandelis Duster, Maeve Reston, Lauren Fox, Alex Rogers and Manu Raju contributed to this report.