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Jeb Bush: No pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants

In an apparent reversal from his past statements, former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday that his immigration reform plan would "fall short" of offering a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States -- a key provision being put forward by the bipartisan group leading reform efforts on Capitol Hill.

The former Florida governor talks about his new book, "Immigration Wars," in which he offers his own prescription for comprehensive immigration reform, and says Republicans need to work harder to appeal to fast-growing minority voters.

“Our proposal is a proposal that looks forward, and if we want to create an immigration policy that's going to work, we can't continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration,” Bush said on NBC’s TODAY Show.

Bush -- an outspoken proponent of GOP outreach to Latinos who has previously embraced a path to citizenship -- said that he backs measures to allow illegal immigrants to become residents of the United States if they meet certain criteria. But he argued that the possibility of full citizenship would merely encourage more illegal immigrants to make their way inside the nation’s borders.

“There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally,” he said. “It's just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law. 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.”

Related: Jeb Bush: I won't rule out 2016 White House run 'but I won't declare today'

Bush’s rejection of that goal appears to be a turnaround for the possible presidential prospect. In a June 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, he acknowledged that his support for a path to citizenship placed him at odds with many in his party.

“You have to deal with this issue. You can’t ignore it,” he said during that interview. “And so, either a path to citizenship -- which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives -- or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind.”

In a January op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bush and Clint Bolick, his co-author on a new book about immigration, wrote that opportunities for citizenship strengthen America. 

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush talks with TODAY's Matt Lauer about the sequester cuts will have on the economy and national security and strategies for improving our immigration system.

"America's immigration system should provide opportunities for people who share the country's core values to become citizens, thereby strengthening the nation as have countless immigrants have before them," he said. (In the same op-ed, the pair also wrote that "amnesty promotes illegal immigration.")

Bush's voiced opposition to full citizenship rights also puts the former governor – and brother of former President George W. Bush – to the right of Republican senators like John McCain, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, all members of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” currently tackling immigration reform legislation.

That group’s proposal would offer “probationary legal status” for illegal immigrants who register with the federal government, pass a background check and pay back taxes and fines.  After certain border security criteria are met, those individuals would become eligible to apply for green cards and – eventually – the ability to seek full citizenship.

Bush appeared on the TODAY show to promote his book “Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution,” which hits shelves tomorrow. 

NBC's Mark Murray contributed to this report. 



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