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George W. Bush urges politicians to "dial down rhetoric" on immigration

George W. Bush says immigration is a "strength"

Former President George W. Bush, a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, urged lawmakers in Washington to support "just" and "fair" bipartisan policies to overhaul the nation's immigration system and bolster border security, saying immigration is a "blessing" and "strength" for the U.S. 

"Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength," the former Republican president said during a naturalization ceremony for a group of new U.S. citizens Monday.

"I hope those responsible in Washington can dial down the rhetoric, put politics aside and modernize our immigration laws soon," he added later in the event, held in his institute in Dallas.

Although he acknowledged the government's need to enforce the nation's immigration laws and secure its borders, the 43rd president's remarks — filled with praise for the U.S. immigrant community and the contributions of different waves of newcomers to the country's prosperity — represented a departure from rhetoric of some Republicans currently in office, including President Trump.

Since taking office, the president has employed tough rhetoric about immigrants and his administration has implemented stringent policies to ramp up enforcement actions and deter illegal immigration, including the practice of separating migrant families near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Trump and congressional Democrats are currently embroiled in a tense standoff over funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he is trying to build through a national emergency declaration that has been challenged in court and in Congress. Before signing a presidential decree to veto the resolution that would've overturned his emergency declaration on Friday, the president portrayed the southern border as a porous frontier where the free movement of drugs and "crime" is creating an urgent national security threat to the nation. "People hate the word invasion, but that's what it is," he said. 

Bush, who backed a broad but failed bipartisan effort in 2007 to reform the country's immigration system and put millions of undocumented immigrants on a pathway to U.S. citizenship, said immigrants "bring energy and talent" to America. 

"The great yearning of so many to live in our country presents a significant challenge. America's elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in and when," he said Monday. "In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America's immigrant history made of us who we are."