(CNN) – Amidst criticisms that he's flip-flopped on a key part of immigration reform, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledged Tuesday that he's been supportive both of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and of a lesser measure granting only legal status, saying his position is underscored by a desire to de-incentivize illegal immigration to the United States.
Speaking with Jake Tapper, CNN's chief Washington correspondent and anchor of the upcoming weekday program "The Lead," Bush said that while his new book "Immigration Wars" specifically says immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally should be barred from a pathway to citizenship, he could support such a pathway if it's proposed by lawmakers this year.
Bush stressed the most important facet of any immigration plan was changing the system to ensure the legal immigration process is more attractive than coming to the United States illegally.
"I have supported both - both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship - with the underlining principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally," he said. "Today the only path to come to this country other, than family re-unification, is to come illegally. We need to create another category of legal immigration where there is actually a line. So if you could create that through a path to citizenship I would support that."
"I've always felt that you could not deal with 11 million people and say, 'See you later,'" he said later.
In January, a bipartisan group of eight senators presented a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that is contingent upon bolstering security on the U.S.-Mexico border. The panel's plan has yet to be introduced as formal legislation. A separate bipartisan group in the House is also weighing immigration reform measures, though is working in private and hasn't released any details.
In his book, which was co-written with lawyer Clint Bolick, Bush comes out firmly against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, writing that "those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship."
That struck many as a reversal of position for the former Florida governor, who said as recently as last summer that he supported a pathway to citizenship.
Bush has been a vocal GOP proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, encouraging fellow Republicans to improve their outreach to minority and immigrant voters. That has led to speculation he's interested in running for president – an office previously held by his brother and father.
But on Tuesday he said he hasn't started considering a run, and won't make a decision in the near future. Will he make a decision in 2014?
"I don't know," Bush said. "The only thing I've decided is I'm not going to think about it for 2013."