Jeb Bush, on NBC’s Today show (via The Hill):
But in a Monday interview with NBC’s “Today,” Bush advocated for a system in which the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally be given the option of attaining permanent residency, but not eventual citizenship. “There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law,” he said. “If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.” …
He also maintained that many immigrants simply don’t want to become U.S. citizens. “They want to come here, they want to work hard, they want to provide for their families,” he said. “Some will want to come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens.”
Bush’s views echo those of immigration expert Peter Skerry. In a recent issue of the always must-read National Affairs, he offers an immigration compromise where illegal immigrants would be offered “permanent non-citizen resident” status. It would be granted on a one-time basis to as many of the undocumented as possible, excepting those with criminal records. Unlike legal permanent residents, or green-card holders, permanent non-citizen residents would be prohibited from ever becoming eligible for naturalization.
In the piece, Skerry points to some data which support Bush’s claim about the extent to which these immigrants want to become citizens. A quarter century after the 1980s amnesty, only 41% of the nearly 2.7 million individuals who became legal permanent residents had gone on to exercise the option to naturalize. Skerry: “In other words, when offered the chance to become citizens, the overwhelming majority of the undocumented have settled for less.”
Polls suggest Americans would prefer immigration reform create a path to citizenship, but I can’t imagine this is very strongly held.