Will Jeb Bush deport 4 million illegals?

The Washington Examiner — There’s been a theme to recent press coverage of Jeb Bush and the rest of the Republican 2016 presidential field. The theme is contrast: While Bush was in San Francisco delivering a moderate message on immigration, other candidates gathered at Rep. Steve “Deportable” King’s meeting in Des Moines to hew to a hard line against illegal immigrants.

“[Bush’s] message contrasted starkly with the rhetoric expected from some other hopefuls who are gathering in Iowa this weekend for a political festival hosted by Rep. Steve King, an anti-immigration reform firebrand,” reported the Washington Post.

“The King event represented the strain of American conservatism that prompted the GOP’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, to say that undocumented immigrants should ‘self-deport,’ ” reported the Huffington Post. “Bush’s remarks a day before offered a sharply contrasting view.”

“Bush concluded his speech on Friday with remarks that seemed tailored to counter ideological hardliners like King,” reported MSNBC.

Perhaps the journalists did not listen to everything Bush said. Yes, he made moderate-sounding statements about immigration, using words and phrases like “shared values” and “dreams” and “economic vitality.” “We need to find a way, a path, to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows,” Bush said. “There’s no way that they’re going to be deported. No one is — no one’s suggesting an organized effort to do that.”

But just moments before — in remarks that did not receive as much coverage — Bush seemed to propose an organized effort to deport millions of illegal immigrants. If Bush actually did what he appeared to say should be done, he would deport as many illegal immigrants from the United States as President Obama has legalized with his unilateral executive action.

“A great nation needs to control its border,” Bush told the audience in San Francisco, “not just at the border, which is hugely important, but also the 40 percent of the people that have come here illegally with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.”

Politely ask them to leave? The phrasing won’t win him much support from law-and-order Republicans, but, Bush appeared to suggest that U.S. authorities track down and deport more than four million people out of the total 11-plus million who are in the country illegally.

Bush has said it before. Back in April 2014, when he set off controversy by declaring that immigrants come to the United States illegally as “an act of love,” Bush also said of so-called visa overstays: “A great country ought to know where those folks are and politely ask them to leave.”

And Bush hasn’t always been so polite. In his 2013 book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, with co-author Clint Bolick, Bush wrote: “We need to swiftly deport individuals who overstay their visas rather than allowing them to stay indefinitely or to pursue multiple appeals.”

Although unnoticed in much press coverage, Bush’s remarks drew a stinging reaction from Presente.org, an online Latino activist group. “Jeb Bush is apparently putting immigrant and Latino bashing front and center for his presidential campaign,” said executive director Arturo Carmona. “We don’t care how ‘nice’ Republicans say their deportations policies are, the poll numbers show they will face a unified wall of opposition from Latino voters.”

Criticism on the other side of the spectrum was just as tough. “Jeb Bush now tells us that he wants the four or five million illegal aliens who overstayed their visas to go home. But why?” asks Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration measures. “How are they different from the six or seven million who infiltrated across the border? I suspect this is merely a pose on [Bush’s] part, an attempt to seem tough when, in fact, Jeb’s position on immigration does not differ in any meaningful way from Obama’s.”

So what is Bush’s actual position? “He is not advocating organizing a mass deportation of individuals currently here illegally,” said spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. “Going forward, Gov. Bush believes Congress needs to pass immigration reform that will put in place a system that is able to determine where individuals who overstay their visas are, pursue them and deport them.” Such a system would operate “in tandem” with tougher border security, Campbell said.

The bottom line is, Bush has said many, many times that he would never favor mass deportations of those here illegally. His spokeswoman now says he would not favor doing that with visa overstays, regardless of what he said in San Francisco or in his book. Still, in coming months, Bush will likely face plenty of questions about the issue. That’s what presidential campaigns are for.