(CNN) - Jeb Bush said the debate over immigration reform needs to move past derisive rhetoric describing illegal immigrants.
The former Florida governor said in an interview Sunday in College Station, Texas, that people who come to the United States illegally are often looking for opportunities to provide for their families that are not available in their home countries.
"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," Bush told Fox News host Shannon Bream at town hall event at the George Bush Presidential Library Center.
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"I honestly think 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," he said.
"I think we need to kind of get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place."
Bush acknowledged that his comments would be recorded. "So be it," he said before discussing immigration reform, an area where he splits from many in the Republican Party in lobbying for a comprehensive overhaul.
Bush also talked at length about education reform, another issue on which he is at odds with many in the GOP. In his two terms as governor of Florida, Bush overhauled the state's education system, introducing a school voucher program and banning the use of race as a factor in university admissions.
"The system we have today with over 13,000 government-run, politicized, unionized monopolies is probably not the best governance model for 2014 and going forward," he said.
2016 decision by year's end
Bush is considering launching a campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, ramping up his political activity in recent weeks.
At the town hall, Bush reiterated that he would make a decision on a White House bid by the end of the year, a timeline he's repeated as speculation swirls that he might be a viable option for the Republican Party.
The politics, he said, are "pretty crazy right now," suggesting too much time is spent strategizing how a candidate can "win the Muscatine pork roast straw poll."
Bush said there will be two overriding factors in his decision: "Can a candidate run with a hopeful, optimistic message? In my case, that means can one do it joyfully without being tied to all the convention of the here and now?"
He also said that family considerations would play a significant role in his ultimate decision.
Pivoting to a wider assessment of Republican politics, Bush said the GOP must choose candidates who can beat Democrats in general elections.
"I think maybe the answer is that we need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point," he said.
Another name often included on a list of potential Republican candidates is Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor, who is also still weighing whether he'll jump into the race, put Bush on the top of his list of prospective 2016 hopefuls in an interview last month.
Asked about his fellow Republican’s praise, Bush called Christie "the real deal" and a "spectacular guy."
Bush 41 marks 25 years
Sunday's town hall was the closing event in a weekend of commemorations marking former President George H. W. Bush's 25th anniversary of his presidency. Jeb Bush is his second-oldest son following his brother, former President George W. Bush.
The town hall event was closed to the media, but portions of Bush's interview with Bream was televised on Fox News.
The weekend of commemorations also marks a resurgence of sorts for Bush 41, who was hospitalized in 2012 at a facility in Houston where he spent several weeks receiving treatment for bronchitis, a bacterial infection and a persistent cough.
The President and his wife, Barbara, attended most of the events this weekend, including the interview with Jeb Bush, according to a Bush spokesperson.
The spokesperson also said roughly 800 people attended events this weekend. Guest included many close advisers to the Bush family, including former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
Just another politician saying anything to increase his popularity so that he can become the next President. Why is that that they cannot see what is really happening here. They come into our country, don't learn our language, but want any of the welfare benefits that the hard working american can pay them. I don't mind them coming, but once you apply for residency, benefits and whatever else you think you deserve, step up and become a citizen, pay taxes, better your families by being decent, law abiding citizens. Don't come over here and just want a handout and steal from us what we worked for.
He's right – it's not a felony, it's a civil infraction. That's why they get deported and not incarcerated.
It isn't the ones that just want a better life. The problem is all the bad elements that either come with them or are hiding in large illegal communities. Unfortunately, no one in Washington will realize that until a congressman/congresswoman's wife/husband, parent, or child is the victim of a violent crime by an illegal.
What is a fact is that with a high illegal population, it is harder to find the illegals that are committing other felonies, other than being here illegaly. We do not owe these invaders anything. Either come to our country how we want or don't come at all? We aren't admitting enough? Not our problem. How about fixing your own countries problems so that your kids will have something that they can be proud of. Oh, wait..... I forgot that it is the liberal way to just take the success of someone else and run it into the ground. And that is exactly what is happening in California.
say goodbye to the nomination Jethro. The Tealiban and the religious fanatics do not tolerate even reasonably rational thought. They demand obedience with no exception
Jeb understands that without his stance on immigration, he will never win the election. In fact, they knew, recognized and admitted this in 12. He faces a major problem. In trying to capture people in the center, the majority, he risks being attacked by the right. This puts him between a rock and a hard place. Mitt had the same problem. He pandered to the right to get the nomination, then dragged himself more to the center in an attempt to win a national election. This backfired on him as it will with Jeb. Guilt by association is going to be another major issue. After "W" destroyed our economy and standing in the international community, it will take decades to recover. Most Americans will be fearful of another Bush term. However, compared to the clown car of extremists now taking over the GOP, Jeb is probably the only one who can even attempt to reach out to the growing demographics that make a GOP win nearly impossible on a national level.
Jeb is a moderate just like all the bushes. They never been right wing conservatives. I think this is part of the reason the bush and clinton family are so close there more centist pragmatic leaders.
He's not going to be POTUS until he dumps the schoolboy nickname, Jeb, and go by his full name John Ellis Bush.
so.....sounds like jeb doesn't really want to be president and this is as good an out as any.
this statement is heresy and battle cry to the republican base. jethro just saved himself a lot of time and money on a campaign, got bumped from serious consideration without offending anyone too badly, and comes off looking like a compassionate guy. well played! there may be some intelligence among the bush clan after all.
Mr. Bush is DOA on any run for president.
Well, you will not get my vote...............the illegal aliens are killing people right and left in Houston........They are also enlarging their gangs and increasing drug trafficking................
Jeb Bush never worked a day in his life at a REAL Job. Neither did his Father. Neither did his Grandfather. Neither will his sons or Grandsons. They do no, can not & never will know what it's like to be Middle Class. The last two Middle Class Prez were Bill Clinton & Barrack Obama. Both raised by single Moms.
His brother GWB also said something similar a long time ago. He said that "family values don't end at the Rio Grande"...
Bush quote on immigration law breaking act of love providing for family hey the guy that robs a bank because he could not get a job because of the bushes and republican agenda of letting banks and big business get away with it creating a recession. Bank robber USC providing for his family too! It's an act of love right?
He is sensitive to illegals because hi wife is of Latino origin.
Ahh, so Jeb has decided he will pick the laws he likes and wants to enforce? Why does his felony of choice get a pass, and others do not? Not as bad as Litl' Shrub (aka the worst President ever) but still not very Presidential...
You can't believe a word that comes out of his mouth.