Washington (CNN) – After several weeks in which the influx of tens of thousands of undocumented children illegally crossing the border into the United States has dominated the headlines, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote an op-ed about the issue, calling for a change in how the children are handled after they are arrested - and also urging his fellow Republicans not to use this as an "excuse" to abandon comprehensive immigration reform.
His Wall Street Journal opinion piece that published Wednesday evening is similar to the statement he released to CNN last week and is just the second time he's spoken on the issue that has caused national debate as unaccompanied children continue to cross the border at an increasing rate.
The potential 2016 presidential candidate wrote in the in the Wall Street Journal, "We now have a humanitarian crisis on our Southern border that demands strong leadership that respects the rule of law."
In the opinion piece he said the children, who are originally from Central America, deserve compassion, writing, "They are trying to escape horrific gang violence and dire conditions," but he also called for more strident action against them: "We must close loopholes that allow for individuals to be released from federal custody between hearings. Except for those deserving few who may demonstrate true cause for asylum or protection from sex trafficking, these children must be returned to their homes in Central America." A vast majority of the children don't show up for their detention hearings.
Bush, who has been one of the lone voices in the Republican party and repeatedly called for an overhaul of the nation's immigration system, also urged his fellow Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, a move that won't sit well with the more conservative wing of the party, which strongly opposes such a move. Bush argues such reform would bring more order and avoid threatened unilateral action by the White House. "President Obama has promised to once again act unilaterally if Congress fails to take up immigration reform. Now is the time for House Republicans to demonstrate leadership on this issue. Congress should not use the present crisis as an excuse to defer comprehensive immigration reform. Whether President Obama is making health care policy by fiat or using the Environmental Protection Agency to circumvent the lawmaking process, we have too often seen what happens when the President oversteps his constitutional authority. Avoiding similar disastrous results will require legislative action by both parties."
House Speaker John Boehner has told the President there would be no vote on immigration reform this year, prompting the Obama administration to study what executive actions it may be able to take to deal with the issue. A spokesman for Boehner did not respond to a request seeking comment on Bush's article. Some conservatives were quick to attack him. "Gov. Bush is saying we should pass an amnesty the American people oppose because if we don't, Obama will implement an illegal amnesty the American people oppose? That's legislation by extortion," said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and one of the leading opponents of comprehensive reform.
The President has asked for recommendations by the end of the summer concerning possible executive actions. Many House Republicans have said they don't support moving on immigration now because they can't trust the President, especially concerning how the administration enforces current immigration laws.
In the opinion piece, written with conservative expert Clint Bolick, the co-author of his 2013 book "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," Bush argues making the immigration system "fair and effective" will help stem future crises. "A chief reason so many people are entering through the back door, so to speak, is that the front door is shut."
CNN's Ashley Killough and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this story.