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George W. Bush: Immigration reform "has a chance to pass"

Former President George W. Bush threw his weight behind comprehensive immigration reform during an interview that aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week," saying it's "very important" Congress fixes a "broken" immigration system, and predicting that a comprehensive bill "has a chance to pass."

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"I think it's very important to fix a broken system, to treat people with respect, and have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people," Bush said. He did not explicitly endorse a recently passed Senate immigration reform bill, only saying the legislative process can be "ugly," but it appears as if Congress is "making progress."

"It's a very difficult bill to pass because there is a lot of moving parts," he explained. "I understand sometimes you get legislation through that you want....But sometimes...it takes time for some of these complex issues to evolve. And looks like immigration, you know, has a chance to pass."

Bush pushed hard for a comprehensive immigration bill during his time in office, an effort that ultimately came up short. But he brushed aside the suggestion, voiced by some in the GOP, that the Republican Party should pass immigration reform to shore up its reputation among the fast-growing Hispanic-American community. "The reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster a Republican Party, it's to fix a system that's broken," he said. "Good policy yields good politics, as far as I'm concerned."

Bush and President Obama crossed paths in Africa this week when both attended a ceremony in Tanzania honoring the Americans who were killed in a 1998 embassy bombing. In his interview with ABC, conducted in Tanzania, Bush explained why African people are so supportive American presidents, even when the American people might not be so keen on their own leaders.

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"We both represent a great country," he said of himself and Mr. Obama. "People admire America, and Africans are thrilled with the idea that American taxpayers funded programs that save lives."

Bush's own signature program in Africa, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been credited with saving millions of lives across Africa by expanding prevention efforts and the availability of anti-retroviral drugs. President Obama has praised PEPFAR as Bush's "crowning achievement."

"That's nice of him," Bush said of Mr. Obama's praise. "I view it as an achievement of American generosity, and it has been an extraordinarily successful program. And I was honored to be a part of it."

He described the moment when he realized America needed to do something to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. "I was the president of the most powerful, rich nation, and (a) pandemic was destroying an entire generation. And I thought it would be morally shameful not to act," he said.

His next African initiative, Bush said, is to combat the spread of cervical cancer caused by HPV. "We think it's needless, and we're trying to do something about it," he said.

During the interview, Bush touched briefly on the chaos unfolding in Egypt, where the military this week ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi, from power, installing a provisional government and calling for new elections.

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Despite the ugliness and violence that have attended many of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, Bush said, he still believes the expansion of democratic rule in the region is a "good thing."

"Sure, it's tumultuous," he said. "Democracies take a while to take root."

Ultimately, though, "in order to have long term security for the United States, democracies need to emerge," Bush said.

He also defended President Obama against critics who have cried foul at his continuation of the Bush administration's aggressive intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism policies. "I think the president got into the Oval Office and realized the dangers to the United States, and he's acted in a way that he thinks is necessary to protect the country," Bush explained. "Protecting the country is the most important job of the presidency."

Bush sat for the interview with his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, who has endorsed marriage equality for gay couples since she left the White House. While he promoted an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution as president, Bush refused to wade back into the contentious debate over marriage now that he's retired.

"I just don't want to wade back in the debate," he said. "I'm out of politics."

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