NASHUA, N.H. -- Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have turned explaining their similar positions on immigration reform into a political art form.
Secure the border, they grovel to conservatives worried about “amnesty.” Get a better grip on people come into the country legally with visas, in case they overstay them. Give legal priority to immigrants who can contribute to the economy. Then — and only then! — should the U.S. grant legal status to many of the nearly 11 million people inside the country without authorization.
“We need to control our border first of all,” Bush said last week at a political breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“The American people, they understand we have an issue that has to be confronted,” Rubio said at a Manchester house party a few hours later. “But they’re not willing to do it or even talk about it until you show them — not tell them, you better show them — that illegal immigration is under control.”
That’s what grass-roots Republican voters want to hear. But they remain skeptical of Rubio and Bush, at least in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary next year after the Iowa caucuses. Neither state is known for its demographic diversity: The population of both states is more than 93 percent white in both states, according to the U.S. Census, and only 5 percent of residents are foreign-born.
Immigration presents a challenge for Bush, the former Florida governor who has yet to declare his 2016 presidential candidacy, and Rubio, the U.S. senator who’s already running. Both back granting legal status to the nearly 11 million people already in the country illegally.