Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has argued that illegal immigrants are not committing a felony, but are breaking the law as an act of love and commitment to family.
"It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family," Bush said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
"I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families," he added.
Bush, who was attending a celebration of the 25th anniversary of his father's inauguration at George H.W. Bush's presidential library in College Station, Texas, also said that he would decide whether he is going to run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination before the end of the year.
The former Florida governor, who served two terms between 1999 and 2007, described the current state of politics as "crazy," and said that he does not want to be drawn into a political "mud fight" if he enters the race. He added that another deciding factor will be his family's thoughts on a possible candidacy.
Immigration reform has emerged as a key political issue in recent years, and has attracted bipartisan support for the most part.
Several Christian groups have urged Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, though House Speaker John Boehner has warned that Republican distrust of President Barack Obama's administration is making it difficult to move forward with legislation.
Last week, a group from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee, which has been a vocal advocate for immigrants' rights, announced that it would walk along the Arizona-Mexico border to remember the deaths of migrants and pray for immigration reform.
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"What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration, that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social issues," said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on migration, said in a statement. "Those who have died, and those deported each day, have the same value and innate God-given dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths."
Over 2,000 people are said to have died since 2001 while walking through the desert trying to reach the U.S., Humane Borders has said.
Bush has been accused of flip-flopping on immigration reform in the past, particularly with his 2013 book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, which he authored with Clint Bolick.
"It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences – in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship," Bush and Bolick wrote.