Former President George W. Bush gives opening remarks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas for a conference titled "Immigration and 4% Growth: How Immigrants grow the U.S. Economy," Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in Dallas. The George W. Bush Institute is hosting panel discussions highlighting the positive impact of immigration on U.S. economic growth. (AP Photo/LM Otero)AP2012
Though it was a top priority issue for him while in office, former President George W. Bush had largely remained mum on the current attempt in Congress to overhaul the national immigration system.
The last such attempt failed during Bush's watch six years ago. Now, the former leader is starting to publicly speak out on the issue in a manner he hadn't since leaving office. He's expected this week to push – with a speech and considerable symbolism – for the need to overhaul the system.
On Wednesday, Bush will preside over a naturalization ceremony at his presidential library in Dallas, and also will take the opportunity to speak about the need for comprehensive immigration reform now before Congress – which includes a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants as well as tightened enforcement.
The event will occur on the same day that Republicans in the House of Representatives are scheduled to meet to discuss a Senate immigration reform measure that passed late last month.
Many House Republicans, who include a solid conservative base opposed to giving any kind of break to undocumented immigrants, have vowed not to rubber-stamp the Senate bill.
The stand-off over legalizing many of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants echoes, in many ways, the obstacles that helped doom Bush’s own effort in 2007 to get Congress to pass a bill that would overhaul the system.
The current Senate legislation combines the promise of citizenship for those living in the United States unlawfully with increased border security. But that approach by the Senate, where Democrats have a majority, is a nonstarter in the GOP-led House.
Some of the most influential Republicans in the House have said that they do not want to deal with immigration in a massive bill, and prefer smaller measures, each dealing with different aspects of immigration.
In an interview with ABC News that the network aired over the weekend, Bush said it looks like an immigration overhaul has a chance to pass Congress this time around, and he says its' important to fix "a broken system."
Asked whether the GOP would suffer if immigration legislation died, Bush said the reason to pass it isn't to bolster the Republican Party but to fix the system.
He said, "Good policy yields good politics as far as I'm concerned."
Bush’s speech on Wednesday reportedly will focus on the need for the United States to pass a sweeping immigration reform measure. Then there will be a panel discussion titled "What Immigrants Contribute," the Los Angeles Times reported.
The high profile input by Bush on immigration in recent days marks a stark departure for the former president, who has remained under the radar on the issue that was among his top agenda priorities during his presidency.
In the interview with ABC News, Bush said – speaking generally – that he preferred to stay out of the limelight during the Obama presidency because he is no longer in politics and is not interested in making headlines with comments critiquing the president.
What impact Bush’s entry into the immigration fray will have on fellow Republicans is anyone’s guess.
Some think it could help, but others downplayed its influence, saying that some House conservatives blame Bush and those aligned with him for fiscal problems and straying away from conservative positions on various issues.
"It's not going to make the difference with conservative Republicans who hold the key to immigration reform in the House,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a former Bush administration official and executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.