Bush Opens His Library With Defense of Immigration Reform

Bush Opens His Library With Defense of Immigration Reform

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WASHINGTON. - The library that will serve as the official record of George W. Bush's legacy as president was inaugurated Thursday with President Obama and the three other living former presidents in attendance. The speakers discussed various aspects of Bush's presidency, in particular his drive for immigration reform.

“I dedicate this library with an unshakable faith in the future of our country,” Bush said, visibly emotional, at the end of his speech at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. “I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead.”

Bush said that he always remained true to his convictions during his time in the nation's highest office (2001-2009), especially "freedom" and that "we made the tough decisions required to keep the American people safe,” referring to the controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Freedom brings responsibility (...) As president, I tried to act on these principles every day. It wasn't always easy and certainly wasn't always popular," said the Bush, who left office in January 2009 in the midst a recession and with very low popularity.

While Bush remains a divisive and unpopular figure in his country and around the world, the atmosphere was jovial as the former president himself and many of his high-profile guests sought to highlight Bush’s positive actions. Many speeches were punctuated by jokes and laughter from the assembled crowd.

Bush "is a good man," said Obama, adding that he learned that President Bush "takes his jobs seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously" and that there are times when mistakes are made.

Besides Bush and Obama, the ceremony was attended by Bush's father, Republican George HW Bush, and Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. These five current and former presidents collectively form the world's most exclusive club.

Also present was First Lady Michelle Obama and four former first ladies, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

The president also stressed the "compassion" and "generosity" of his predecessor, and Bush's "strength and resolve" after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as his efforts in the fight against AIDS and the malaria.

President Bush likened his approach to "compassionate conservatism"- the idea of prioritizing helping those in need through conservative policies. For Bush, immigration reform figured prominently in this ideology, and this helped the republican garner Latino support that would be unthinkable now.

“I like President Bush. (…) I like it when we have disagreements,” said Bill Clinton, who showed off his humor and garnered many laughs from the audience.

George Bush senior appeared in a wheelchair, and received much applause. At 88 years old, he was recently hospitalized for nearly two months for complications from bronchitis.

“My George is a man who when someone needs hand, offers them his arms.” Said his wife and former First Lady Laura Bush.

Obama and Clinton defended the need to implement immigration reform and thanked Bush for the efforts he made in this regard during his tenure.

"Seven years ago, President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," said Mr. Obama, "And even though comprehensive immigration reform has taken a little longer than any of us expected, I am hopeful that this year (…) we bring it home."

Bush joined Senators John McCain (R) and the late Ted Kennedy (D), on am initiative for immigration reform that was ultimately unsuccessful.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 would have, among other things, provided legal status and a path to citizenship to nearly all the undocumented immigrants in the US, implemented the DREAM act and a guest worker program, and made getting a visa easier for high skilled workers. On the other side, it severely heightened border security and made family reunification more difficult.

The bill was rejected by the Senate and never voted on, but if the push for reform is successful this year, as Obama hopes, "it will be in large part thanks to all the hard work of President George W. Bush," said the current president.

In the same vein, Clinton thanked Bush for the "efforts" during his presidency to reform the immigration system and "keep America as a nation of immigrants."

The ceremony was attended by dozens of international guests, including former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The new library, which is part of the National Archives Administration's network of presidential libraries, has about 70 million documents, 4 million digital photos, 200 million emails and 43,000 objects.

Among these objects is the megaphone that Bush used in New York in his visit to the ruins of the twin towers collapsed in the attacks of September 11th.