(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.
Illegal immigration is ILLEGAL.
Quit trying to cast different terms on it and instead focus on enforcing the law!
I don't care why they are entering this country illegally. The fact is there are plenty of people doing all the right things and following the laws to become citizens for exactly the same reasons. But illegals are thumbing their noses at ALL Americans when they enter this country illegally.
I think Jeb, if he runs, will change his tune
Gates, Rice Sununu....all that was missing was Cheney and Rumsfeld to complete the group of thieves. Please God, let's not go back to the Bushes.
Wow it seems the shoe is in the other foot now as extreme right wingers show their fear of a moderate republican who is pro immigration reform. Hmmm if Jeb becomes president what will those radical "lets shut the government down just because we can" republicans do? Skewer him like that have Obama? Sadly it's plain to see the grand old party is tearing itself apart internally on immigration, women's rights, climate change, and hundreds of other ways. We all must stop the loud vocal minorities from preventing fair and honest government by continuing to go down that obstructionist road. I hope we can turn the corner and elect a president who is a true man of the people, and with their support they will be able to vanquish the loud mouthed far right wingers who chose to ignore reality, yet dominate the airwaves spewing their vile destructive ideas about how to run this country. We've done this whole running the country thing quite well in its history, great Democrats and Republicans have led with no tolerance for the kinds of things that are common practice in the house and senate today. How about this.... Term limits of 4 terms for house members and senators, with no career politicians involved the government would once again be run be the people of the United States not career politicians.
He's a Bush, what more do we need to say? Fool you once, shame on somebody, I think...
This man is a fool...................... America can only absorb so many people. Kick the illegals out!
Following the same logic, someone robbing a store by gunpoint is also an act of love?
friends of amnesty for Mexican illegal immigrants should pay attention to what happens to illegals who enter Mexico like those from Guatemala or Puerto Rico, the Mexican Government gives them the harshest treatment imaginable, torture imprisonment for years. Talk about a double standard.
All illegal immigrants need to be forced in following the laws of immigration..
This guy is out of his mind, a different kind of crime. Illegal immigrants are criminals plain and simple and I actually have to give Obama administration some credit on this issue, his deportation rate is far and ahead of any previous administration, though still woefully short of what it should be. Illegal immigrants are an enormous drain on this country, the little bit they contribute will never come close to the amount they are draining from this country every single day. Education, health care, welfare and food stamps which they do manage to get somehow. By all reports about 1/3 of all illegal immigrants are collecting some sort of public assistance, for the most part in the form of either food stamps or Medicaid. That’s actually a higher percentage than U.S. citizens. The worst part of it all I think is the “remittances” that flow out of this country every day, Mexico alone is the recipient of almost $25 billion dollars a year, which makes “remittances” Mexico’s second highest form of revenue next to oil. This country is going broke and in the meantime there is an entire economy being supported by illegal immigrants that sneak across our border take jobs from Americans and then funnel the money they earn right out of this country. I don’t think I would call that an act of love, it’s more like a felony.
The concept of lawbreakers (ILLEGAL ALIENS) being good for the nation is a lie. If being a citizen is so meaningless then we need to to away with national taxes.
I think it was a brilliant move on is part. He is fully aware that the Republicans will never win without the Latino vote so why not go out on a limb and see how far the party is willing to bend. If there is no sway, as it appears to be so given some of the comments on here, then I guarantee he will not run. Why waste your time and money on a doomed presidential run.
Do you hear that Republicans, you will never win a national election without the Hispanic vote.
I'm just wondering is it only Mexicans that are the problem or do they have a problem with the many middle easterners that come here, get on welfare, have a baby every 9 months and send most of their dollars back to their home countries? And constantly speak Arabic? I'd rather learn Spanish than that?
Immigration is 'not a felony' but 'an act of love'???? That's utter BS. Jeb is just another Bush idiot that the elite want to put in the presidential race. The only reason he is taking that position is because he wants to throw his hat in the presidential bid. He's another Bush phony.
I am a conservative and I had enough of that family. Yes, anything would be better than what is in office now... maybe a 12 year old... But another bush??? give me a freaking break!!!
I wish he'd run instead of his brother way back. He seems much more .... presidential. I would love to see a moderate Republican candidate that doesn't run on fear-mongering and hate and vitriol.
We are a nation of laws, and Jeb Bush surely knows that. Those who want to enter this country should get in line and do it the right way just like others have over the years. Me thinks he is starting his presidential campaign. Since he is married to a Latino, he would likely get the Latino vote.
Silly guy, he doesn't even realize we are not a pro-famaily country. He needs a new argument. It's an act of pure economics maybe?. NAFTA killed the family farms in Mexico and since we'd been luring cheap labor here anyway, the road to prosperity grew wider. We still like cheap labor but, dadgummit, these people have too money babies.
Illegal immigration may be an act of love with the illegals trying to improve their life and the lives of their families. But that doesn't alter the fact it's a crime and they are breaking the law. If you want to improve yourselves, then immigrate legally.
The right is always upset with violations of the law except when they're not. What is Rick Scott, the former CEO of the greatest medicare fraud in history, doing as governor of Florida. Sen. Dave Vitter refuses to "dignify" any questions about his taste in women for rent, a crime by the way, and is handily reelected. Mark Sandord continuously lied about everything when governor of S.C. concernnig his new found interest in South American culture which he subsidized with taxpayer funds and is elected to Congress. Stop whining about someone who walks through deserts to work at a minimum wage job and sends most of his money back to his family. I'll take that illiegal immigrant over one heck of a lot of native born Americans in a heart beat.
Don't bother with the decision Jeb. You just made it. Your immigration answer alone disqualifies you from winning the Republican nomination, unless of course you just bail and totally backtrack on that position. RWNJ voters are just stupid and desperate enough to believe anything they want to hear. It doesn't matter if the thing they want to hear completely contradicts something the candidate said earlier (right Mitt?). But if Jeb sticks to this position, he may as well stay home and save himself the stress and headaches of running for President cause he's toast.
Every one of you posting here who is an American citizen is here for one reason. Your ancestors wanted a better life.
We (the US) need to assist Mexico in making it a better country. It seems we throw billions at other countries for military and strategic reasons. Why can't we do better in helping our next door neighbor? If they do better, the US becomes less of a desirable destination in the long run.
It's because his wife is Hispanic, isn't it????
Jeb is going to have quite a few opinions that will shake the GOP foundation. I'm not calling him Pope Francis but if the GOP expects business as usual they won't get it.
Jeb, keep saying that buddy. You're done with the crazy Rightwing.
And deportation is tough love and completely necessary.