Jeb Bush's comments earlier this week on immigration have been duly parsed for their political implications for the 2016 presidential race. Is he running? Is he committing political suicide? Is he out to lunch?
Here's what Bush said:
But the way I look at this -- and I'm going to say this, and it'll be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn't have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.
The last time Republican presidential contestants debated immigration, an electrified fence was casually proposed, and no one onstage blinked. There is no question that Bush understood the risk he undertook in discussing love in a time of choleric. The former Florida governor was intentionally defiant.
Was he also right?
For good or ill, it takes enormous courage to cross the U.S. border illegally. Fences, border guards, geography and surveillance technology all conspire against the attempt. Some die in the effort. Many others are turned back, the money they carefully saved to pay coyotes for illegal transit wasted.
To enter the country illegally, immigrants often need the kind of guts and gumption that Americans typically celebrate in other contexts. If they manage to make it here, and stay, their sacrifices for loved ones are often profound. They work hard, live in penury and constant insecurity and send cash home. They bring their families here -- risking the border again -- to afford their children a chance at a better life. Their stories are stereotypical. And very American.
In effect, these are people who are not easily deterred when pursuing their goals; who sometimes go to extremes to support their families; who, along the way, build nations. Not every border transgression is an act of love. But Bush was right. Many are. And Bush's public recognition of the fact -- in the face of vehement political opposition -- was in many ways an act in kind.
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(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
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