George W. Bush broaches immigration reform - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

George W. Bush broaches immigration reform ahead of critical GOP meeting

© George W. Bush © George W. Bush

(CBSNews) -Just hours ahead of a critical meeting on immigration reform efforts in Congress -- in which House Republicans will stake out their position on the issue -- former President George W. Bush on Wednesday cautiously waded back into political waters by stressing that the current immigration system in America is "broken."

"The laws governing the immigration system aren't working," Mr. Bush said at a naturalization ceremony at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. The ceremony was the first public event at the newly-opened institute, underscoring the former president's interest in immigration.

"We're a nation of immigrants... we're also a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws," Mr. Bush said. "America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We can uphold our tradition of assimilating immigrants... but we have a problem."

Mr. Bush urged lawmakers currently engaged in the immigration reform debate to "keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and... understand the contributions immigrants make to our country."

It's unlikely House Republicans -- who have more to gain politically by satisfying primary voters in the next two years than by contributing to the GOP's long term prospects with Hispanic voters -- will give much credence to Mr. Bush's message. The most conservative members in the House GOP caucus have zero interest in creating a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants -- which is a major part of the comprehensive bill that passed in the Senate.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told CBS News' Nancy Cordes on "CBS This Morning" that Congress has "no moral obligation to do that. They came here to live in the shadows, they had to expect they were going to live in the shadows."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already indicated he doesn't plan to put the Senate bill up for a vote. House Republicans have said they'd prefer to take an incremental approach to the issue rather than passing a big, comprehensive package. Furthermore, they say any immigration reform effort must address border security first.

Wednesday's House GOP meeting will open with remarks from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who will discuss the standalone immigration bills he has drafted as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. His bills would make being an illegal immigrant in the United States a federal crime and empower local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, reform and expand the agricultural worker visa program and another to require all employers to check the legal status of employees.

Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, will then review his bill, which passed out of the Homeland Security Committee, that would beef up border security. The meeting will then open up for questions and comments from other GOP members.

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