(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.
Try entering to Mexico and then tell their policia that it was an act of love.
...illegal immigration an act of love ... that is nonsense ... he is out fishing for votes and will obviously announce soon that he is running 2016 ... I ain't buying it
I was rather disappointed in hearing my grown nephew disparage "people who are here illegally." I realized that my generation had failed to convey our family history. My grandfather (my nephew's great grandfather) entered this country illegally, and create a life for our family. Apparently my nephew does not understand that he is living his privileged life because and "illegal" paved the way for him.
O.M.G. WHAT a pile of crap!
Oh! By the way Jeb, I know Mexicans work hard, but it's you that should try working along side of them for a week maybe you could accomplish more than you did in all the years you spent as governor of Florida.
if you fling open your doors to the world you'd have half of every third world nation coming, a couple billion people. you have to set a policy and stick to it.
Not surprised to hear a Republican sweet-talk illegal immigrants when he'll soon seeking the GOP nomination, as if illegals can actually vote. Wait, that can be fixed.
No immigration reform from GOP. No Hispanic vote. Period!
Bush One=One War
Bush Two= Two Wars (outcome to be determined after more then a decade)
Bush Three= Look Out World! This time it's all or nothing.
Start preparing your five year olds now, we will need much canon fodder in the future.
Could Mr. Bush's sentiments have something to do with the fact he's married to a Mexican?
people came from everywhere across the great divide
but the natives grew restless and threw them back on the other side
they say, I don't think you understand this is the land of the free
when it was given to us -this land was made for you and me ....but mostly me, it's mine so back off
It is not an act of love, it is the willful act of stealing services from our hospitals until they go bankrupt, the act of stealing housing, the act of stealing jobs and the act of stealing attention from the people who really need it, the actual taxpayers who have been paying taxes for decades only to get the cold shoulder from these very people who want to "spread the love".
What is wrong with these people? Why can't they deal with the problems of the MAJORITY?
I fear Bush as much as Clinton
Is he really kin to Shrub? What a intelligent and enlightened statement. I might vote Republican again if he runs.
What if an illegal immigrant crosses the boarder with a dirty atomic weapon and makes the LA basin unsafe for human beings. Farfetched? Yes. But, if the boarder isn't secure against "acts of love" job seekers, it isn't secure against terrorists either.
Wow. A Bush actually recognizing some facet of humanity. Strap on your ice skates and head on down!
Bush WH and Silverstein did it to NYC. CIA confirms. See: CIA Asset Susan Lindauer pdx 911 Truth – on youtube, or reports on veterans today. All of Congress, and BO WH knows this, and fails to act.
No more Bushs ever.
I guess bank robbers are just "looking for opportunities to provide fo their families that are not available in their legal jobs". And I suppose selling drugs is okay as long as some of the profit goes to your family?
The middle class is not the friend of the Rich and Powerful. Wages will continue to go down and there isn't a thing we can do about it.
Sad the Media doesn't want to hear what Mexican/Latino/Cuban's are saying and they are the ones many candidates are begging for votes as a large voting group. But they do speak out.
If Bush were the republican nominee, I would not vote for the republican candidate for the first time in my life. I would not vote for a democrat, I would simply not vote for Bush.
Just my opinion but wouldn't it be more of an act of love to help improve their lives in their home countries? And not in the typical CIA way but in a Christian way. I feel most illegal immigrants are such because it is their only real choice. If they had opportunities in their home land they would prefer to stay there.
Where's justice. My wife and her two sons, good students in the Philippines, have to wait forever to get in the USA legally. Their home in Tacloban was destroyed and disease everywhere from all the dead bodies of people and animals. You think my government would help us out…..hell no. But Obama and his welfare give every illegal a break for their votes and supports rules while breaking very law in the country on immigration. Legal aliens ought to be considered first not last like under Obama and Bush. You bleeding heart liberals ought to be put last in line and sent out of the country and see how it feels. Fed up with you dead beats and know nothings.