EXCLUSIVE: Former President George W. Bush said the immigration system is “broken” because Congress “has failed to act” while saying the U.S. can “both be welcoming and insistent on border enforcement.”
In an exclusive interview with Fox News to discuss his new book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants,” the former president discussed current immigration policy and possible remedies to the system.
“You’re not going to solve this if there is politics,” Bush told Fox News. “If you think about where we are right now, you’ve got people on one side of the aisle blaming the former president, and people on the other side of the aisle blaming the current president.
“And, the truth of the matter is, the system is broken because Congress has failed to act.”
But Bush added that the “people who are guilty, really guilty, are the people who exploit human misery, and charge money to desperate people, and bring them to the border with no plan to get them into the country.”
“I’m sure they’re telling them falsehoods – ‘follow me, I’ll get you in’ – and these poor people have no way of checking that out and are finding themselves stuck at the border,” Bush said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced last week it encountered more than 178,000 migrants in April, a jump of over 900% compared to April 2020. CBP encountered 178,622 migrants in April trying to enter the U.S., a 3% increase over the 172,000 encountered the previous month, which had been the highest number in 20 years.
“What you’re seeing is a border that reflects a broken system, and there needs to be changes,” he continued. “There need to be changes in work visas, so people don’t have to sneak in to do work that needs to be done in America; there need to be changes in the asylum system to be able to adjudicate cases quickly.”
He added: “And what people have got to understand is that a broken system makes it harder to enforce the border. A reformed system will make it easier to enforce the border, and so that is what has to happen.”
Bush told Fox News he thinks Congress will need to take a “piecemeal approach.”
C.A. Smith Photography for President George W. Bush (C.A. Smith Photography for President George W. Bush)
“I don’t think Congress is going to be able to get it all done with one comprehensive bill. I think there needs to be a piecemeal approach so that people can gain confidence in the ability to work with the other side,” Bush explained.
Bush recommended work on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was restored under the Biden administration, first.
“I think if you were to say to the American people, ‘Do you think it is good policy to educate a child in the United States, whose parents brought that child here outside the law, find that child and send them back to a country where they have no home?’ Most Americans would say, that doesn’t make any sense,” Bush said.
“If they were to fix DACA, which is limited in number, then all of a sudden, people can say, wow, we can work together and get something done,” he said, also pointing to workers programs where “lower-skilled workers can come to the country legally to do jobs that need to be done.”
“You come here to Texas, people are looking for workers,” Bush said. “And I think that can be fixed. And the same for high-skilled workers.”
He added: “So I think there are some areas where we should be able to come together.”
In his book, Bush highlights the story of Alfredo Duarte from Mexico. Duarte, now a naturalized American citizen, first came to the U.S. illegally, which Bush says gives him “an interesting point of view.”
Bush told Fox News his new book came about when he had been painting “without a project in mind.” Bush said a friend approached him saying the country needed his “voice in the immigration debate.”
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not so sure I want to get involved in politics,’ and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you paint immigrants,’” Bush recalled. “And it was one of those moments where it was incredibly enlightening, and I thought, wow, great idea.”
Bush painted and wrote the book in 2020 but told Fox News “the timing of the book had little to do with the current debate on immigration.”
“In other words, it is fortuitous, in my mind, that immigration became such a hot issue,” Bush said. “But the purpose of this book was not to create a hot issue – the purpose of the book was to try to change the tone of the debate and get people to focus on the beauty of immigration, not the sordid side of immigration.”
President George W. Bush’s book “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants”
Bush told Fox News that changing the rhetoric “starts with this premise that we’re all God’s children, and every life matters.”
“Well, if that becomes the basis of which to solve a problem, it changes the tone of the rhetoric, and the rhetoric is less alienating, and more welcoming,” he said.
“And I think you can be both welcoming, and insistent on border enforcement,” Bush said. “And that’s really the purpose of the book.”