Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has been a longtime supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, so it caught many off guard this week when, in his new book, Bush came out against a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. “It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship,” Bush argues in the book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, which was co-authored with lawyer Clint Bolick. “To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship.” Instead, Bush and Bolick write, undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to apply for citizenship until they return to their countries of origins.Bush’s position on a path to citizenship in Immigration Wars puts him in opposition with the bipartisan Senate immigration framework that calls for an earned path to citizenship. And it differs from his previous support. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed from January 24, Bush wrote that a “practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants—a system that will include a path to citizenship—will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers.” And he told CBS’ Charlie Rose in June 2012, “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.

Since the reports appeared about Bush’s changing stance on a path to citizenship, he has tried to clarify where he stands. On Tuesday, he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he would support legislation “where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally…I don’t have a problem with that.” And Bush has explained that they wrote the book a year ago, before there was a consensus among members of Congress about needing to tackle immigration reform.

But leaders from both parties have been shaking their heads over Bush’s changing immigration position. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the bipartisan group working on a comprehensive immigration bill, said Bush’s stance “undercuts what we’re trying to do.” Another Republican in the group, Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ), said he was “a bit perplexed” and “disappointed” to learn of Bush’s approach. And Democrat Rep. Xavier Becerra used Bush as an example of Republicans being “bullied by the most extreme members of their party.”

But with bipartisan opposition to Bush’s wavering on his previous support for a path to citizenship, it is clear that providing citizenship to undocumented immigrants is a middle ground proposal – not the extreme idea that House Republicans tried to paint it as during the first immigration hearing. The integration of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the United States into full citizenship is not only good for those individuals, but the country as a whole. That is why any comprehensive immigration reform bill must include a path to citizenship, which, deep down in his heart, Jeb Bush already knows.

Photo Courtesy of News Hour.

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