George W. Bush calls the country “divided” under Trump and pushes immigration reform

Former President George W. Bush, who has mostly stayed on the political sidelines after the White House, has come back with criticism of his Republican successor as he advocates a sharply different immigration policy than former President Donald Trump.

“The problem with the immigration debate is that it, one, can create a lot of fear. ‘They’re coming after you,'” Bush said in a recent interview with CBS News on his 1,600-acre farm in Crawford, Texas.

Mr. Bush, whose coloring book “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” is published by Crown, hopes his voice can make the debate less frightening after four years of Mr. Bush. Trump’s policy. The proceeds from his book go to charities that help immigrants resettle.

“The country was very divided during this period. And you know, as a result, he was not re-elected,” he said. Bush about Mr. Trump.

Although he accused Mr Trump of dividing the country, Mr Bush would not go so far as to blame the January 6 riots at the US Capitol, which he called a “terrible moment in our history.”

“It made me sick. I could not believe it. You could not either. Most Americans sit there and say, ‘What the hell is going on there?'” Bush said. “Trying to guess the motives of upset people – history will assess guilt as time goes on.”

More than two decades ago, Mr. Bush as a compassionate conservative who wanted to implement a comprehensive immigration reform. His failure to do so, he said, is one of his biggest regrets and part of the reason he resumes the debate.

It was Ken Mehlman, his former campaign manager, who encouraged him about four years ago to talk about immigration reform, Bush said.

“I said, ‘I do not want to put my voice in the immigration debate. I’m a quiet guy. I’ve made my appointment. I do not want to criticize my followers. “He said, ‘Why don’t you paint portraits of immigrants?’ “I said, ‘Wow, that’s a good idea,'” he said. “And I’m getting started.

Former President George W. Bush speaks to CBS Evening News anchor and editor-in-chief Norah O’Donnell in his art studio on his Texas ranch.

Adam Verdugo / CBS News

The last president to sign an immigration reform bill was President Ronald Reagan in 1986, essentially granting amnesty to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. Mr. Bush said he does not believe granting immediate amnesty to immigrants “would work in this day and age,” but he supports a path to citizenship.

“However, I believe in people who have been here, who [followed] the law and paid their taxes should get a chance … a path to citizenship, “he said. If they pay their taxes and turn out to be good citizens. And stay out of jail. But do not jump in front of those who have been here and lived by the rules. ”

Bush said he would lobby the Republican Party to support it if it is President Joe Biden’s proposal.

“Whether my own party listens to me or not is another question,” he said.

Bush also said he disagrees with the argument that immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens.

“I think it helps increase the number of vacancies. And there are a lot of jobs that are not being done now. You’re coming here to Dallas in August, and not many people are volunteering to lay tiles on the roofs. ” he said. said.

The former president employs eight immigrants working on his 90-acre wood farm. They are in the United States on work visas, he said.

“They are incredibly good workers. But more importantly, they are here to support their families. And they are sending money home,” Bush said, adding that he believes the current work visa system should be expanded.

“The problem with the visa program is that they have to apply for resumption every year. And as a result, as a small business owner, we do not know if the workforce trained to work in the timber business will return. And that needs to be addressed, “he said.

On the front page of Mr. Bush’s portrait book is Carlos Rovelo, who came to the United States because of a civil war in El Salvador. If he had been there, Rovelo, now a father of four, said he did not think he would be alive. His father was tortured, his family was forced to pay a ransom for his father’s release, and his grandmother witnessed the murder of an archbishop near their home.

Former President George W. Bush painted a portrait of Carlos Rovelo, who grew up in El Salvador and became a U.S. citizen in 1987 after escaping the Civil War.

Adam Verdugo / CBS News

He became a U.S. citizen in 1987 and is now a professor at a community college and teaches federal and Texas government, Mexican-American studies, and art history.

“Only in America. And that’s what this country is about. Never say never,” Rovelo said of being on the front page.

Mr. Bush, who met Rovelo through his art instructor, hopes the tone of the immigration debate will change by sharing Rovelo’s history and others.

“That’s what makes me angry about this debate. I really do not want to get involved in politics. But you know, the tone of the debate was just as disrespectful to people as Carlos,” he said. “Dream big dreams and work hard.”