(CNN) – Former President George W. Bush, who presided over the last attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, reiterated his belief Tuesday that immigrants are a beneficial and integral part of the American way of life.
"Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas. They fill a critical gap in our labor market. They work hard for a chance at a better life," Bush said in a short speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He was speaking ahead of an event sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute spotlighting the positive economic impact of immigration.
In his remarks, Bush praised immigrants as helping "build the nation we have become," saying they will also help "build a dynamic tomorrow."
"Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul," he said. "America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time."
Bush's remarks came nearly a month after the 2012 presidential election, which saw GOP nominee Mitt Romney receive only 27% of the Latino vote, compared to 71% who went for President Barack Obama. That's a dip in Latino support for the Republican candidate from 2008, when 31% of Latinos went for Sen. John McCain. It's a major drop from 2004, when 44% of Latinos supported Bush.
In his final term as president, Bush championed a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would have combined tighter border security rules with a temporary guest worker program. He was unable to garner enough support from members of his own party in the Senate, however, and the bill went down in defeat before making it to his desk.
Among the lawmakers who voted for the bill, which came after months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, was then-Sen. Barack Obama – who as president has not made significant efforts to pass immigration reform legislation. He said during the presidential campaign that passing such a measure will be a goal of his second term, saying he was "confident" such legislation could pass.
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community," he continued.
Two senators – Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham – have said they plan to reignite bipartisan immigration reform talks on Capitol Hill, focusing on a measure first introduced in 2010. That effort, which Obama praised, drew fire from all sides and eventually stalled.
And two Republicans, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, introduced a bill last week that would give legal status to certain young immigrants brought to the United States by their parents.
In his remarks Tuesday, Bush said any push to reform the nation's immigration laws would need to maintain a sense of compassion for those affected by new rules.
"As our nation debates a proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit, and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants," Bush said.