(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.
Well, there you are. The playbook for 2014 and 2016 elections and how the GOP expects to court favor with the Latino voters. Yet, how long until another Cesar Chavez, whom the Bush family was no friend of, stands at the border and shouts "Mr. Bush.... tear down this wall!"
I have seen Mexicans work – they work hard – I challenge you to work alongside them for a week – I don't buy the free ride argument."
A team of latins (could have been Mexicans) came and replaced my roof. I never saw people work as hard and fast in my life. I thought that I was a hard worker.... these guys were amazing.
I agree with Bush...cough, cough (did I REALLY just say that?). We must control our borders and immigration must be controlled but to call them criminals for sneaking in without papers is like calling your teenager a criminal at the dinner table because he got a speeding ticket for 10mph over the limit. Yes illegals are breaking the law but how many of you all are "boy/girl scouts". I know I'm not.
If illegal aliens want to show "love' find another country. I will send my good wishes to you there but get off my land.
Act of love? Really? Thinking this is the kind of pandering BS we should get used to as the elections roll closer.
Okay – I see that what Jeb is doing is trying to take the Hispanic vote away from the Democrats. Everything is about polls and heavily scripted by the Republican party. It isn't coming spontaneously from Jeb, from his heart (if he has one). He has been anointed to run to take away the Hispanic vote, which is more and more critical in elections.
But unless he becomes a Democrat, he will not succeed, because people still understand: "It's the economy, stupid" and the Republicans have not delivered for a long, long time.
Sorry, but you could not be more wrong and out of touch. Since 9/11, more American citizens have died at the hands of illegal immigrants than died in the attacks on 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – COMBINED!
Wow!! Very interesting coming from a Bush. But then again John Bush's wife is a naturalized citizen. She is naturalized from Mexico. Make your own conclusion.
Oligarchy, billionaires like the Koch's and Adelson's rule. Democracy the people rule. Are their really people in this Country that have to think about this..
Call it what ever you want to call it. Rationalize it all you want. Make excuses all you want. It is STILL a crime. Understandable? Sure. But, still a crime. If you don't want it to be considered a crime, then change the law. Unless the law is changed, it is will be a crime, no matter who it is or why they come or how they come. Why do people keep avoiding that fact? IT. IS. A. CRIME. That is all I have against the situation. It's illegal. If Congress and whoever doesn't want them to be considered criminals, then change the law instead of saying it's ok to break the law.
I wish this Bush served as president as his failure brother nearly destroyed this country and spilled so much blood on meaningless wars.
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Sven– Yes Mexicans work hard, the problem is these same Mexicans that are working 60 hours a week are not reporting and paying taxes. Then they also apply for assistance and receive it because they do not report any income. They are basically double dipping and getting away with it.
"I have seen Mexicans work – they work hard – I challenge you to work alongside them for a week"
Legally or illegally?
"Immigrants didn't break any laws entering the USA because there are no laws against immigrating from their countries."
...right, because the laws of Columbia regulate the United States. Got it.
"It's not a felony"
sounds like a great bumper-sticker phrase to me
We need to improve the real economy both overseas and here at home. Capitalism done right can create more abundance and a higher universal living standard. Better jobs are needed that reward productivity and pay higher wages to let people lift themselves up. This will also create enough excess abundance to help those relatively few that have legitimate problems and deserve some extra help.
it's not a question of whether or not the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA wants to help others. Our nation has
always been the melting pot. It's a question of other nations who don't want to straighten out their own county
and make it so bad that people have to exile here and we can't handle the worlds problems. I guess the IRAQ WAR
was an act of love but any time with the later bushes you need to go to war their never personally around.
" VIETNAM " !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
we need an acceptable immigration policy to all and to ask other countries to straighten up or we will be glad
to take over their governments and do it for them so people will no longer worry about getting the hell out
of their own country.
Illegal immigration is great for the rich. It has been a disaster for the middle class and poor.
Sorry Jeb it is a felony not an act of love.
Get a grip and stop trying to play the race card for votes they should all be deported. We are the only Country in the world that let people stay if they come in the back door and you wonder why they come to take jobs away from us and not pay taxes kind of easy and we pay them with our tax dollars.
All of my N O P E.
Another Bush speaking stupid statements.
i have worked beside mexican, colombian, guatemalan, ecuadorian workers for years in hard jobs, the kind americans say these workers are stealing but the kind of jobs american would never ever do on their own. most of these men put american workers to shame. to call them lazy, to denigrate the quality of their integrity is a sign of pure american arrogance and ignorance. sorry, my fellow privileged americans, these men put us to shame. they work like my father's generation worked; hard, diligently, with pride. you haters of immigration, i dare you to keep up, and hold your sad, weak, ungrateful head up, at the end of the day, and still be able to laugh as they do. life is hard, but they meet it in ways you can't even dream.
anchor baby, medicaid, welfare checks, and section housing. We are not worried about the ones who earn their way!
Translation......Jeb Bush does not want to run for president, so he says something that insures he will never be nominated.........
well mexico has it made all the bums and failures go to the u.s