(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.
Sounds like the opening shot of Jeb's bid for the White House. Demographic changes have made it necessary for Republicans to court the Hispanic vote. The problem is much of their base is xenophobic and anti Hispanic in particular. Republican employers of illegals want things just as they are so the labor is cheap with no taxes paid by the employer. However, The "Southern Strategy" rural voters have been whipped into a fury by talk radio and this will be a hard pill for them to swallow.
What little respect I had for Jeb Bush just disappeared. Illegals know they are breaking the law. I have no problems with Mexicans or any other group immigrating into the US, just stop and sign the guest book first. Follow the law. The argument that they are just trying to benefit their families is a noble one, but a bank robber could make the same argument. No to Jeb. By the way – I'm a strong conservative on most issues.
An absolute slap in the face to everyone that comes here legally. I gues i'll go rob a liquor store. Its not a felony. Its and act of love.
Some very important people have always known this to be an act of love of cheap labor Listen to Jeb our next president.
And here I thought all along his brother was the family buffoon!
All those who have no compassion for the illegal workers, how do you feel about those who employ them? And which party do you think is overrepresented among those employers?
Why don't we just empty out the rest of the world and bring everybody here who wants to come? It seems that all Bushes are dunces.
what hypocrisy. he is quoting Obama almost to the letter….
@tavuka2 and big jilm, how many Americans are willing to work 10-12 hours a day seven days a week practically 365 days a year for peanuts? I can guess that not that many.
These folks are not doing jobs that middle and upper class people want and can do. They pay taxes and buy goods.
If you want to go after the real bad guys go after those in congress or the five on the SCOTUS who just gave the rich 1% the way to buy more elections so that they can continue to live like kings while the vanishing middle class suffers. That's worse than any illegals who are mostly hard working men and women
Sorry, Jeb who?
It is known that a large percentage of Hispanic people are generally conservatives and vote republican in the US. Jeb Bush is clearly catering to Hispanic people by saying what he says. Now, the question is whether what he is saying is true in general and in his mind: Should Illegal aliens be so harshly criticized? Hispanic people have helped build this country from since before it was the USA, legally and illegally. Yes, they are breaking the law and yes they should pay a price for that but that does not mean we should demonize them for trying to carve our a better life. That is what the American dream is and that is why this melting pot of a country is so great, no matter what the lazy doomsayers want others to believe.
enough of the emotional bs bush. this is a cut and dry legal issue. no country, especially the usa, can afford to have open borders and allow tens of millions of people to come/stay in the country illegally. i would prefer they love our laws and respect them by honoring them, as many do.
this country is arresting over one million illegals a year and letting 75% of them go!! enforce the laws, let our law enforcement do their jobs. secure the southern border and require all visa people to purchase a $100,000 bond that they would forfeit if they overstayed their visa. let bounty hunters track them down for the money. this is not rocket science, nor is it difficult or impossible as the looney left keeps spewing.
Love my behind! just a politcal rino hack! no we don't want the illegals here at all!
Except for criminals, all should be free to travel all over the world. I am tired of all the hate politics and hate discourse among public. Let's bring a bit of humanity back. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who has ever done any selfless good for others will know that it's a feeling like none other.
So if I walk in on my husband with another woman, and I kill that woman, I am doing it because I love my husband. Therefore, my murder is not a crime, but an act of love.
I live in Southern California. Cant speak for how it is in the rest of this country, but the pretty much the complete student body in many of our schools is receiving free breakfasts and lunches. Who is paying for this? (Yes I know it's you and me.)
@tavuka2, I am not looking to live in the US. I am trying to get out of this place. It's your unwarranted fear that generates hate based policies. Not everyone is gravitated towards US. When more people move around, there would be more equitable exchange around the world. For example, fewer people actually apply for US citizenship now than even 20 years ago. More and more people go back to their home countries because they miss 'home,' and the home now has better opportunities as the economic walls have collapsed.
Let the flood gates open
Let the gates of flooding be open!
I knew those bush's were traitors!!!
This guy is after the hispanic vote in a big way.
So if i sell drugs that are illegal to provide food for my family, than it would not be illegal?
It's an act of greed - I don't care about helping my home country, gimme more money.
Jeb, I agree with you, but you do realize you just cost yourself the GOP nomination, right? They will never nominate someone who is not going to at least give lip service to being a hard liner on immigration.