Washington (CNN) – Making an argument for overhauling the nation's immigration system Friday to a crowd of conservative activists, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush claimed immigrants were "more fertile" and thus a great benefit to American society.
His remark appeared to be an inarticulate reference to immigrants' fertility rates, which data show are higher than native-born Americans.
"Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans over the last 20 years. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity," Bush said at the annual Faith and Freedom conference in the nation's capital.
He prefaced his remarks with an analysis of America's demographic struggles, saying that the rate of Americans entering retirement couldn't be sustained by the current size of the workforce. Economists have long warned that government programs for seniors like Social Security and Medicare face long-term funding problems.
Last year, trustees projected Social Security could pay promised benefits in full through 2036, after which the program could only afford to pay 77% of them. Social Security has already begun paying out more in benefits than it takes in from workers' payroll taxes.
Bush argued Friday the problem lay in an imbalance between working Americans paying taxes and the number of older Americans – living longer – who have been promised government support in their retirement.
"We're going to have fewer workers taking care of a larger number of people the country has a social contract with to be able to allow them to retire with dignity and purpose," Bush said. "We cannot do that with the fertility rates that we have in our country. We're below break-even today."
Part of the solution, he said, was encouraging more legal immigration that would add people to the workforce, thereby creating more payroll tax revenue.
"The one way that we can rebuild the demographic pyramid is to fix a broken immigration system to allow for people to come and learn English and play by our rules, to embrace our values and to pursue their dreams in our country with a vengeance to create more opportunities for all of us," said Bush, a longtime proponent for comprehensive immigration reform.
"This is a conservative idea," he continued. "If we do this we will rebuild our country in a way that will allow us to grow. If we don't do it we will be in decline, since productivity of this country is dependent upon young people who are equipped to work hard."
Bush, unlike many Republicans, has backed a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, provided they pay fines and learn English. Such measures have been staunchly opposed by conservatives, who say allowing people who came to the United States illegally to remain here amounts to amnesty.
Bush's arguments for immigration reform were met with near silence from the conservative crowd Friday, and following his speech the former Florida governor received a polite standing ovation. Comparatively, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who used parts of her speech to decry the bill backed by a bipartisan group of eight senators as "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, received loud applause.
Bush, who is speculated to be considering a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, made his remarks the same week U.S. census data indicated rapid demographic changes, including showing for the first time that more non-Hispanic Whites died last year than were born.
The data also showed that Asians were the nation's fastest-growing demographic group, rising in population 2.9% last year. The Hispanic population grew by 2.2%, which the Census Bureau primarily attributed to a greater number of births than deaths.
In total, non-Hispanic Whites were the only racial group to have a negative rate of "natural increase" last year – meaning there were more deaths than births. Hispanics had 872,840 more births than deaths; African-Americans had 435,182; and Asians had 211,537.
CNN's Peter Hamby and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
Here's a glimpse of how Twitter users reacted to Bush's comment:
And all of these fertile immigrants will actually be PAYING taxes to support SS/Medicare, right?
Geez people will complain about anything. Look at me, complaining about complaining. See?!? What's the big deal.
simple solution to the social security issue is to have the rich and big business pay their fair share of taxes..
How to reduce the birth rate of middle-class white Americans in one simple step:
Keep enacting the GOP/Teatrolls' supply-side trickle-down plutocratic economic policies that have been redistributing the wealth upwards for the past 40 years while middle-class salaries remained stagnant.
Aaaaaha, karmic irony has a special place in its heart for you, GOPers/Teatrolls. Your own ideology contributed greatly to you becoming the architects of your demographic Armageddon.
I'm trying to stay away from the "redneck" remark.....but it's so hard.
A Bush and an inarticulate remark – imagine that! This family needs to go away after his brother left office in disgrace.
Exactly how outraged do you feel when Biden makes inarticulate remarks?
I didn't know Jeb Bush was a comedian. When will he appear on Comedy Central? Seriously.
The brainiest of the Bush clan?
I think the word Jeb was looking for was "fecund" not "fertile". These folks have more kids than American families normally do, it has nothing to do with fertility, unless you are arguing that these people use less birth control than Americans do, in which case, they may indeed be more fertile.
Of course Hispanics are growing population! Their goal is to just get to America and pop out anchor babies left and right. More fertile than others because they have no reason to use birth control when they are trying to get in the US and stay here with an anchor baby. Like duhhh who doesn't know that. It's not about fertile. It's about the opportunity and about staying here.
Jeb must be hanging around Biden too much. Would any other person say something that stupid??
Yep; Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Glen Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Shamity, Rush Limpbrain, etc., except they would have said something even stupider.
Once upon a time Jeb Bush would have made a good president, but the Bush brand is damaged...once upon a time the GOP brand was good, but the Tea Party ruined it.
Well Jeb, perhaps these people are more fertile, and more generally productive because they have not been here long enough to have their balls cut off by and out of control government that your father and brother moved even further away from what this country is supposed to be about.
YEAH!!!.... Get more young workers to support the retired folks..... The Social Security ponzi scheme continues.....
This must be part of Reince Priebus' outreach to the Latno voters, huh? Let us know how this works out for you.
Jeb Bush: the new director of the Immigrant Breeding Program. Jeb, are you sure we shouldn't put drugs in the water where there are high concentrations of these immigrants, so that we can optimize their reproduction?
yeah more fertile cos theres no taxpayer handouts if you were BORN here, especially if youre single white and male. But hey if youre some Muslim Extremist people like Jeb Bush will give you a home, fund your college, pay your rent, furnish your home, give you free money, and even train you how to fly a plane, no need to learn how to land it.
If we support immigration reform there will be a boom in the diaper and apple sauce industries!
#twitter is annoying
Jeb you aren't going to get a sniff of the White house so disappear already.
"More Fertile" = More children – More welfare checks
illegal are doing all kinds of works the most of the people don't like. the real legal in US
is indian and mexican Indian. From that time came here anglosajon without any papers. This is America is an emigrant land, a Free Land. Don't pretend to be a native
americans. you are an emigrant too.
It's sad that Barbara Bush was so fertile
The simple solution is to stop paying for people who offer nothing in return.
Immigrants used to come here to become AMERICANS; now they just come for the goods.
""This is a conservative idea,"" I totally agree. America grows by bringing in new blood, and we triumph by being better than wherever it was they came from. America is an idea, a thought virus from outer space, and it grows in the minds of people who understand what freedom means. Dictators and despots fear us because we can set their people free by remote control with a song or a picture. But I still think Jeb is an idiot.