Sen. Jeff Flake: Jeb Bush’s immigration comments took guts

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., walks to a Senate joint caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.  Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., stepped into a political mine field earlier this month when he said many immigrants who come to the country illegally do so as "an act of love" rather than a crime. Although his critics far outnumber supporters on the issue, Bush found himself a high-profile defender in Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and one of the authors of the Senate immigration bill.

"Truth is, I agree with Jeb, and I applaud him for having the guts to say it," Flake wrote on his Facebook page Monday. "Growing up here in Arizona, I've seen what motivates those who come here illegally. Sure, some come with the intent to do harm or simply to take advantage of our generosity. But many come to find work to feed their families. To lump everyone who crosses the border illegally into the same class is unfair and unproductive."

Flake went on to say that acknowledging that motivation does not reduce the need for a secure border, better employment verification systems, a guest worker program, and reforms to the legal immigration system. Although he does not mention the bill he helped write, those are all major components that it includes.

"I hold no brief for Jeb Bush, but having such a prominent Republican speak so humanely and unapologetically about the motivations behind many of those who have come to reside in this country is good for all of us," Flake wrote.

Bush's comments threw into sharp relief how the Republican Party is still struggling to strike the right tone and policy positions on immigration. Although the number of Hispanic voters is increasing, the party's base still tends to reward candidates who are seen as being the toughest opponents of illegal immigration.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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