(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.
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.
I guess you can say it's an act of love, if you can say that capitalism is an act of love. Immigration, illegal or otherwise, is just an economic act, it's simply, how many workers do you need, nothing more, nothing less. The best way to get more workers, or immigrants, is to enact policies that would make new workers absolutely necessary. You could shorten the work week, that would assure a need for new workers, if you shortened it enough, maybe down to 20 hrs., plus triple time for anything over 20 hrs. Then you have the bad trade deals and the use of supply side economics, both destroy jobs, both would have to go, if you want new workers. In short, just about the entire economic policy format that we have now would have to go, we have to have policies that would ensure we would always need new workers, instead of the other way around, having economic policies that ensure we will never need new workers. Adding new workers only adds to the misery of millions of American legal workers, even Hispanic workers, who can't find good jobs due to bad economic policies, and a huge worker surplus. It's actually an act of hatred, you hate the American workers, especially the Mexican/Hispanic workers, and will do everything you can to make their lives miserable, to increase their unemployment rate, under employment rate, to numbers that would show how much you hate such workers, and that you would do anything to destroy them. An act of extreme hatred.
It would help matters if some folks would stop employing illegals. As long as their is such high demand, there will remain a supply.
Yawn, conservative empathy. Send republicans back to republistan.
Where is the act of love for the middle class. Republicans love all that cheap labor.
His stance on allowing people to flagrantly break our laws and disregard U.S. sovereignty is just one reason he must never be allowed to become President. The other is that this over-influence of well-to-do families must not allow our democracy to become a permanent oligarchy. And this is coming from a conservative.
-–so any one can just cross the boarder, work illegally, stay here illegally, rob the benefits, drive illegally, make any accidents, it not a felony. What a brain!!!
It is not the immigrant's fault that they are here. It is our fault for not guarding our border. Immigrants didn't break any laws entering the USA because there are no laws against immigrating from their countries.
The great Nordic democracies deport all illegal aliens and do not give birthright citizenship.
I guess he just threw out the welcome mat to 7 billion people on the planet to come and get on the US welfare breeder program... I wonder how many will be here demanding an American middle or upper middle class life style paid for my the few working Americans? How many hours will the working Americans have to work to pay for the freebies for 7 billion people? I do not think we have enough people to do that... but hey we all be loved as we are worked and starved to death.
10,000,000 illegals is an invasion upon the United States. They drive on our freeways, send kids to our schools, use welfare collected by their legal relatives, pay nothing for emergency room and hospital care, and cost millions in border security. This is a massive drain on our society and sends a message to the third world that we are fools who can't even control our borders. Try sneaking into Mexico or Central America and working there illegally – you will be arrested and deported faster than a speeding bullet. Round them all up in a massive sweep, load up the buses, and drop the 10,000,000 off at our southern border.
The bush dynasty has gotten progressively worse. We dont need another one.
Republicans.. and you wonder why you can't win any elections... ..do you have a BRAIN?
You have lost my vote, Jeb Bush. United States cannot accept illegal immigrants, it will have drastic consequences.
yep.. if we feed them they will come... by the billions.... America will be lost under trillions of tons of human waste.
So, if China wants to send a couple hundred million people they don't want, should we take them? We must know it's not just Mexicans. Other countries will be able send hundreds of millions here like just like Castro did when he emptied his prisons and mental detention centers.
Hmmm, says a guy where so many of his fellow family members are responsible for anti-family policies when they were in office that it's hard to believe he is the black sheep.
Jackola....so a bank robber didn't break the law either because the bank didn't provide enough security?
Put employers in jail that hire illegals. It should solve the main problem. Watch big corporations that hire H1-B visas, watch attorneys and if found bogus papers put these attorneys in jail without parol. These guys are robbing the benefits such as SS, Medicare, healthcare etc. Deport if found illegal, watch BCBS of NC. Many more need to go home.
@Sven: only 3% of them work hard, check stats data, as well as look at ppl in social service offices. while productivity increases, all people in us should work less and enjoy life, instead of being slave and barely able to cover bed-board-transportation cost.
Thank you, Jeb Bush, for reminding everyone who feels the U.S. gov't should put U.S. citizens ahead of lawbreaking foreign nationals that you are an *abysmal* choice for president in 2016. Just unbelievable.
Well, THAT should settle the debate: No more Clintons, OR BUSHES! The "leader of the Free World" should not be from TWO families for 20 of last 25 years! Move on!
Please watch the bubble gum immigration video on YouTube... Can we really solve then worlds problems by bringing all of humanity here in the US.. without destroying America? REALLY????
Sorry Bush you may peddle your progressive view on the liberals but the conservatives aren't buying it.