Former Florida governor Jeb Bush opened the annual Hispanic Leadership Network conference Thursday with praise for the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, which some conservatives are criticizing as being too weak on border enforcement and security.
Bush said the bill attempts to balance both the immigrant experience and respect for the rule of law.
"They've come up with a comprehensive, really detailed approach that I applaud," Bush said.
The legislation was formally unveiled Thursday in Washington. It calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already in the United States illegally as long as certain border security goals are met first. It also would allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country while requiring employers to verify their legal status.
Two Republican senators and several law enforcement officials publicly criticized the bill's border enforcement and security measures Thursday.
Many Republicans have taken a hardline stance on immigration though some have started to change their viewpoints. Hispanics are a growing segment of the electorate and the Republican party has been trying to make inroads into capturing the Latino vote once again.
Bush said immigrants bring a love of country and "injection of optimism" that the nation needs. He also said there needs to be a fair way for those who have taken a legal route to entering and residing in the U.S. to become citizens before those who did not.
"I think an American value would be those that wait patiently should be given higher priority," he said.
Bush has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential contender. The annual Hispanic Leadership Network conference attracts some of the nation's top conservative Latino voices. Bush was introduced by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who called him "just as Hispanic as everyone in this room and maybe a little more."
Asked in a public forum whether he was motivated to run for president, Bush declined to answer, saying it was non-partisan event. But the audience gave an enthusiastic applause at the notion.
"This is the wrong forum to ask that question," Bush said.