George W. Bush: 'Immigration is a blessing and a strength'

Calls for comprehensive immigration reform

(CNN) - Former President George W. Bush appeared at a naturalization ceremony Monday where he praised the nation's immigrant history and called on lawmakers to deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

"America's elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in and when," Bush said at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, where dozens took the oath of allegiance to become citizens. "In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America's immigrant history made us who we are. Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength."

Bush was joined by his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, who also delivered remarks before the ceremony and noted the deep immigrant community in Texas.

"We're a much richer state for all the cultures that have settled on our land," the former first lady said.

The former president echoed the sentiment, telling those at the ceremony that in addition to becoming US citizens, they would leave the room officially Texans.

"If you walk out of here with a little extra attitude in your step, it shows the culture is taking hold," Bush said.

The rhetoric and policy positions from Bush came in contrast to much of the modern Republican Party and President Donald Trump, who has advocated hardline immigration policies and claimed last year he could upend the constitutional concept of birthright citizenship. Trump hosted a naturalization ceremony in the Oval Office last January where he too congratulated newly minted US citizens on their achievements.

In his speech Monday, Bush predicted "just" and "fair" immigration policies would eventually take hold, but said such reform would have to start "with recognizing a plain responsibility at the border," while contrasting himself from many prominent Democrats who have criticized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and called for its abolition.

"Borders are not arbitrary, and they need to be respected along with the fine men and women of the immigration services and the Border Patrol," Bush said.

The Bush Center said Monday's naturalization ceremony was in line with its immigration program and used the event to highlight recently released policy recommendations that called for immigration reform that includes laws that "maintain or expand future flows of legal immigration," establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and enhance "enforcement of immigration laws."

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