(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.
Follow @politicaltickerFollow @danadavidsen
"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 agree with what he says, the problem is that he doesn't agree with what he says. NO MORE BUSHES, CLINTONS or OBAMAS please. ALL LIARS.
So if the only way I can provide for my family is to be a contract killer it's not a felony any more? Sweet!
.............for the sake of this once great country keep him out of the whitehouse.
People that are out of work and rob convenience stores.
Act of love?
Oh my gosh all it takes is Jeb Bush to be for illegal amnesty and all you CNN readers, change your mind and are against it now. Good, Keep that mindset no matter who supports illegal immigrants. We don't have enough jobs as it is, lower skilled of lower middle class have to compete with the people on a daily basis for jobs
I wonder if the Romans viewed the invasion of their Empire by barbarians as an act of love.
Yes, and "unlicensed pharmacists" are just trying to do what's best for their 'clients', right??? Talk about cloud-cuckoo land!
Actually George the elder wasn't a half bad president compared to George the younger.
Then again...look what you're comparing him to!
Jeb is testing the waters for a Presidential bid with this talk about compassion toward illegals- he's all for helping Latino illegal immigrants while denying any compassion toward Hatian refugees- just like his pal Marco Rubio. Hurricanes and earthquakes and no government did not generate a shred of compassion for Hatian refugees...but then, they dont have voting family members like the Latinos do.
This is a man that also does not care a whit for what the voters want- or vote for. When he was Florida's governor, he threw millions of taxpayer dollars against legalized gambling- even though the voters passed it overwhelmingly.
Jeb is just like his brother- but smarter and more dangerous.
An issue about which I don't recall reading is that of "cost." People who have been legal, U.S. for decades if not centuries are descendants of ancestors who paid taxes all their lives. The descendants, themselves, assuming they have jobs, have been paying taxes from day one of employment, in most cases before they had children. Today, legal and illegal aliens show up in the U.S. in many, if not most instances, with large, extended families in-tow and they have contributed nothing to the services and benefits they receive when they get here. Therefore, these new arrivals are a net drain on the resources of the U.S. This is a point that it seems a lot of people miss. And, yes, This applies to immigrants in any country. If the U.S. were a thriving economy with lots of jobs growth, this wouldn't be an issue, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
So why should the American taxpayer pay for somebody else's act of love?
Does this act of love extend to displaced American (legal) workers and the tax burned imposed?
If you don't see that both sides are puppets of the same corporate master, then yeah you have no choice but to agree with them!
Oh Jeb, we hardly knew ye. Bye now.
And I guess we should be responsible for the people that enter illegally and what happens in every third world country....LOVE HELL.....let them stay in their country and change it.....that's what we did with England 240 years ago.
If you have something negative to say about immigrants, then help one obtain their green card, or citizenship. Or sit there and grip about subjects you are versed in, like trailer park living...
The Tea Party will hate him...
Can there really be Americans dumb enough to swallow this politician's sickening slop?
So if they rob a bank to get money for their family, it's not a violation of the law – it's an act of love? Sorry Bush – you are nuts.
Jeb Bush may have to take several steps back from his compassionate statement if he wants to win over Tea Partiers and conservative purists. The big question is how much of a Romney style flip flop he has to make to appease anti-immigration reform conservatives.
Ah yes, the beginning of a presidential campaign – knowing exactly who to kiss up to for those cherished votes.
The American people have just been slimed by the Republicans again. Who in the world is voting for them?
The GOP uses more tricks to get minority votes, but when the elections come Latinos know the truth, they will
say anything to get elected and take it all back the day after the election.
Being married to a Mexican wife, he is obviously trying to keep the peace.
Tough to be a Republican on this issue. Love illegal aliens, and you're a panderer. Criticize them and you have no heart. They shouldn't even bother.