Jeb Bush thinks President Obama overstepped his authority when he extended deportation relief to an estimated five million people in November — and now he's comparing the president to autocrats like Fidel Castro.
Bush, speaking a private event in Iowa on Saturday, was confronted by an activist who asked if he would overturn the president's relief programs.
"Let's give them priority to be citizens," he said in Spanish, referencing young undocumented immigrants. "But by the law, not by decree. That's like a Latin American dictator."
The former Florida governor is a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and his views on immigration have thus far set him apart from his more conservative peers. He supports immigration reform that would provide a pathway to legal status for many immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa.
Bush did not give a clear answer to reporters who asked whether he would end Obama's deportation relief programs, which are largely on hold due to a court challenge by 26 states.
"We need to change the law," he said. "That's exactly what I said this afternoon. … We need to do this by law, not by executive order."
Young undocumented immigrants, self-identified as Dreamers, have pressed Republicans on immigration. At an August event in Iowa, an activist asked one of the party's staunchest immigration hawks, Rep. Steve King (Iowa), if he would destroy her proof of deportation relief. Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky), seated nearby, narrowly avoided the confrontation.
At another Iowa event in January, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were both interrupted by hecklers who shouted, "We are Americans."
So far, Bush seems to be popular with young Republicans. A poll released by Fusion in February found he led the pack of possible GOP presidential candidates, holding a narrow advantage over Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin).
Monica Reyes, director of Dream Iowa and the activist who confronted Bush on Saturday, said in a statement that ending Obama's deportation relief programs would be the wrong move. Reyes is also enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows young undocumented immigrants to work in the U.S.
"Politicians like Jeb Bush need to realize that they will not secure any Latino votes if they keep trying to hurt the Latino community," she said.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.