Washington (CNN) – Jeb Bush, Florida's former Republican governor, said Thursday that it is important for his party to not forget about Asian Americans, especially when talking about immigration reform.
In answering a question about the political reasons for passing immigration reform at an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Bush said for the GOP, Asian Americans are "the canary in the coal mine."
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"Here is a group that has higher intact families, more entrepreneurial, higher than average incomes, higher college graduation rates," Bush said when describing the reasons the Republican Party should be attractive to Asian Americans.
"Asian Americans are actually the canary in the coal mine, I believe, for Republicans," Bush continued. "If we have lost connectivity to emerging voters, not because of our policies so much, but because we are not engaged in issues of importance to them, then I think we pay a price."
Bush's comments come on the same day that the United States Census Bureau announced Asians were "the nation's fastest-growing race or ethnic group."
According to the census, the number of Asian Americans grew by 2.9 percent in 2012, to a total of 18.9 million people. The government agency also announced that more than 60 percent of Asian growth came from international immigration.
The term canary in the coal mine refers to a dated mining practice, where miners would bring caged canaries to the bottom of coal mines to monitor for noxious gases. The birds were more sensitive to the gas, so when they would die, the miners would know it was time to evacuate the mine. The term now means a group or idea that is an early signal of trouble.
Since President Barack Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, immigration reform has been discussed as one of the most pivotal issues facing Congress. According to CNN exit polls from the 2012 election, 73% of Asian voters favored Obama compared to 26% who voted for Romney.
Full Senate debate of an immigration reform bill started Wednesday, where senators from both parties traded barbs about the need and implementation of reforming the nation's immigration system.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated a pledge to complete immigration reform in the Senate by July 4th.
Bush, who spoke on a panel with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said that the political reason for passing immigration – the need to reach out to minority voters who turned away from the Republicans in 2012 – is obvious.
"I'd say both parties feel a need for political reasons to forge a consensus on good policy," Bush said. "And there is nothing wrong with that."
Bush did, however, discourage looking at immigration reform from a strictly political lens, even going as far as to say that looking at immigration as solely a political issue was the greatest risk to any immigration bill on Capitol Hill.
A possible contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2016 – despite the fact that he has done very little to stoke the presidential rumors – Bush also announced that he had given some "humble advice" to Republicans on Capitol Hill earlier on Thursday.
The former Florida governor, who was invited to address House Republicans by Republican Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said many of the legislators were receptive to his message of continued focus on immigration reform.
Asked about the chances that immigration reform passes Congress, Bush was upbeat.
"It is within our grasp to do it now," Bush said. "I think delay would be inappropriate."