STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On a Tuesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Republicans and Democrats might not be as close as it seemed on immigration. Many leading Republicans called for reform after their party's defeat in last year's election. But when they say reform, they don't always mean the same thing as Democrats. A big divide is whether to offer a special path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million in the U.S. illegally.
INSKEEP: The latest leading Republican to say no is Jeb Bush. The Spanish-speaking former Florida governor is now considered a presidential contender. Last year Bush said he, quote, "would support a path to citizenship." But he stops short of that in a new book called "Immigration Wars" co-authored with Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute.
JEB BUSH: Clint and I believe that what we've proposed is a good, conservative, economically-driven respect for the rule of law, a set of policies that would work. And it's something that the Republicans could embrace.
INSKEEP: OK. Respect for the rule of law. That's a tough one because you have millions of people in the country illegally. And really, the question is how to legalize them.
BUSH: So we propose legalizing them after there is a recognition that if people come here illegally, they have to pay a fine or do community service, make sure they don't commit any serious crimes. And over a period of time, they can have a legalized status that allows them to live a life of dignity but not necessarily a path to citizenship. So as to not create incentives for future people that aspire to come to our country to do so illegally when they could come legally.
INSKEEP: Clint Bolick, why not a path to citizenship?
CLINT BOLICK: We think that it's very important to send a message that there are consequences for those who do come illegally. To reward people who have come here illegally would create the exact kind of problem that we saw after the 1986 amnesty, which was more illegal immigration.
INSKEEP: Although let me ask you, Governor Bush, about one of the side effects of this because this debate has already been playing out for months, as you know. And one question about giving people legal status without making it very easy to become citizens eventually will make them, in effect, second-class citizens - permanent residents who will never have an opportunity to be citizens and never have an opportunity, for example, to vote.
BUSH: Well, if they wanted to become citizens they could easily go back to their country of origin and apply. And unlike the current conditions, if you change the immigration laws, actually people that could come here legally would be able to do so. Right now, in effect, we tell people to get in the back of the line, but the line is either so long or it doesn't exist. I mean, we don't really have that option. Our proposal would allow for that option to exist.
INSKEEP: Well, Clint Bolick, don't you also propose changing the eligibility requirements for getting into the country, making it a little less likely that you would get in because of a family connection and a little more likely that you would get in because of some skill?
BOLICK: That's absolutely right. We're the only country in the entire world that places such a low premium on people coming here to work. Two-thirds of our immigrants come as a result of family preferences, which are not just for spouses and minor children, which we think ought to remain, but also siblings and parents.
And they, in turn, have a preference to bring in their relatives as well. We think that we ought to dramatically increase the number of people who can come for low-skilled jobs, for high-skilled jobs, for education. If you really are ever going to arrest illegal immigration, you have to make it a lot simpler and a lot fairer to immigrate legally.
INSKEEP: Governor Bush, I know your party is focusing more on immigration but we are also in the middle of a chain of budget fights, as you know very well. Do you think your party is still too focused on a narrow set of budget issues?
BUSH: No. I think it's correct to say that we have a spending problem that's going to overwhelm all the priorities that people in public life would want. So advocating spending restraint is important. But I think it also ought to be combined with an advocacy of reform of our entitlement system and engage the president to get him to be public about what his plan is.
The only plan that's been out there for a while is the Ryan plan and then the Ryan-Wyden plan. But the president needs to lead in this regard, and I hope he does.
INSKEEP: If I may summarize what the president has suggested he would sign onto, there are talks about changing the way that providers are paid through Medicare. There has been some discussion, although the president has backed off on changing the eligibility requirements for entitlement programs. There is an argument by the White House that you can make relatively subtle changes that do not drastically alter the services provided and still preserve these programs. Do you think the president's right?
BUSH: If the president is for increasing the eligibility rate, which I think makes sense, given the changing demographic nature of our country; if he's for whatever substantive changes he's for, he should be public about it. This is not a radical idea. This is how it has been done in American history. Presidents have led and they've used all the skills at their disposal to convince and persuade. My brother did it. Bill Clinton did it. My dad did it. Ronald Reagan did it. Why is it such a hard thing for us now to expect presidents to lead?
INSKEEP: If you were running for president, would reshaping Medicare necessarily then be part of your program?
BUSH: Well, I'm not running for president. I'll let you know if I ever decide to do that. But yeah, I mean, you cannot ignore the biggest structural challenge that we face. Medicare has served this country well. But when we've had - which is a good thing - we've had the extension of life now take place in ways that no one imagined when Medicare was created. And we haven't changed the fundamentals of the program; you would expect in public life to make those kinds of adjustments so that we can save Medicare.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Governor Bush, what would cause you to know that the time is right for you to run for president?
BUSH: Closer to...
BUSH: ...the time when the election takes place. I mean, we just had an election and a lot will happen between now and the time that I would even begin to consider something like that. So time would be the leading indicator.
INSKEEP: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick are co-authors of "Immigration Wars." Thanks very much, gentlemen.
BUSH: Thanks, Steve.
BOLICK: Thanks for having us.