WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says the future of the American economy depends on immigrants.
Speaking Friday to religious conservatives, Bush said that immigrants are particularly important to help create more taxpayers to fund the safety net for the large, retiring baby boomer generation.
"Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans over the last 20 years," he said, adding that immigrants also have more "intact families."
"Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families," he said.
Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, is thought to be weighing a presidential bid. He is among several potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual conference in Washington.
As Congress debates changing the nation's immigration laws, many conservatives are reluctant to support a new system that grants so-called "amnesty" to millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Before being granted legal status, Bush said, they should pay a fine, learn English and be blocked from receiving welfare benefits.
He said the nation must allow more immigrants "to pursue their dreams in our country with a vengeance to create more opportunities for all of us."
"If we don't do it, we will be in decline," he told evangelical Christian activists.
"They bring a younger population," Bush continued. "Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity."