(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.
Once you allow illegal immigration you have to provide welfare, Obamacare or Medicaid, etc.
Well, there goes Jeb. The smart bush? not so much...
Oh, yes, an act of love – contributing to overpopulation and lowering the pay scale for a lot of jobs at the same time. lol.
Oh please. Suck up to the Hispanic voters some more could you please?
So tired of political nepotism in this country.
NO MORE BUSHES! NO MORE CLINTONS!
Will the rich take extra tax hikes to pay for their welfare and healthcare?
It is also an act of love for U.S. citizens to want to stop supporting and financing people who choose to violate our laws for their own greed. FYI I am Hispanic!!!
Wouldn't it be nice if there were choices besides a Bush or a Clinton in elections?
Actually would love to see a moderate GOP candidate.
That is the problem that immigration reform faces, the problem being ignorant to the facts.
Numerous studies have shown that immigration reform would benefit the country and provide more revenue, and decrease spending on border control, not raise the welfare which most Americans abuse.
The American Dream is over and not because of immigrants, because of many Americans who would rather live off of welfare and tax the hardworking , rather than provide for their families which is what most of these immigrants want to do.
Joe is inaccurate
Nice to know that Jeb Bush just openly admitted he's gonna run for President in 2016. Now we can start working against that effort, huh. #IllegalAliensAREFELONS
that there should be a price paid: OK, what is that price? The only logical sanction is deportation.
But of course pro-immigration groups don't support deportation. Therefore after reformed is passed and there is a new set of immigration laws there will be a new group of illegal immigrants (since the current set will be legalized).
What sanctions will apply to this new group of illegal immigrants? Pro-immigrations groups will use the same excuses against any and all sanctions they use today; they are mean, they break up families,,, Since the new laws will NOT be enforced, there will be another group illegal immigrants we need to deal with a few years after refromed is passed.
Agree with Jeb 100% – Finally a break from the harsh, pseudo-Christian rhetoric of the republicans.
Honor killings are acts of love, too. Is he cool with them?
Doesn't even matter now. Only rich peoples votes count. Welcome to the downward capitalism spiral folks.
Well he just kissed his chances of nomination goodbye. The Tea Partiers will crucify him over this.
IT REALLY AN EVERLOVE ACT.
only if rape is equal to love for Jeb.. hardworking Americans from any ethnicity are raped by reach 1% and poor 30% these days
If illegal immigration is good for the country, then allow them to come in – but on their own dime. Turn off the freebies (welfare, healthcare, education, etc), get rid of anchor baby laws and watch how illegal immigration slows down to a virtual stop. They don't want a better opportunity – they want a free ride.
He doesn't actually think he could be elected President, right?
Bush's are a dynasty with 2 presidents in my lifetime...There has only been Bill Clinton, so cut with the "dynasty "crap...The only 'dynasty' families have been the Roosevelt's, the Adam's and the Bush's, The "dynasty" whine is getting to sound like a broken record, period!
They are leeching off the U.S. That is not love.......that is theft.
Can the GOP just agree to pass an immigration reform bill? Can any of the Congressmen from Texas just give up their prejudice, bigotry and racism to vote for the welfare of the country?
Yeah, it's kind of like invading a country under the cover of outright lies and deception just to get their oil.
And then screwing it up. I mean REALLY screwing it up.
That's why we need you there Jeb. Your brother did such a great job we just can't wait to see how you'll screw us.
So let me get this right, If I sell drugs to suppot my family and commit a felony doing so it shouldn't be considered a felony but rather an act of love. Further more that could be be any felonous crime commited to support ones family. I see why the second word of the second paragraph is FORMER
This is the exact same kind of stuff that the last Bush said to get elected back in 2000 under the heading of "COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM". Doesn't anybody remember that? Its a SMOKE SCREEN. But by all means... run another bush in 2016. It aught to be hillarious.