Immigration thrust a new facet to troubled former president Bush's reputation

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Out of office for a dozen years and still castigated for his “war on terror,” former United States president George W Bush has resurfaced as a passionate immigration advocate just as his Republican Party careens in the opposite direction.

The 74-year-old Texan, whose disastrous invasion of Iraq and failure to implement immigration reform helped give rise to Mr Donald Trump, is enjoying a resurgence of sorts in the aftermath of Mr Trump’s erratic tenure.

US troops in Afghanistan, the “forever war” of Mr Bush’s presidency, now face a September pullout under Democratic President Joe Biden.

With Mr Bush nostalgia evident, the 43rd president who normally lays low has released “Out of Many, One,” featuring 43 of his own oil paintings of immigrants he has come to know.

In a Washington Post op-ed column last week Mr Bush said he compiled the book of portraits of immigrants who have embraced their adopted country as a way to help lower the temperature and “humanise the debate on immigration” in America.

But the man who once served as governor from a state on the front lines of the political fight over border security also unleashed fierce criticism of his own party and its antagonistic anti-immigrant stance.

The GOP has become “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent nativist,” Mr Bush said this week in an NBC Today interview.

Mr Bush supports a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers if they pay back taxes and have a clean background check. He advocates for visa reform and is backing the DACA program, which offers protection from deportation and permission to work for people who arrived without papers as children.

Such positions have put Mr Bush at odds with his party’s base, and align more with the progressive immigration ideals of Democrats – many of whom were fierce enemies of Bush when he was commander in chief.

Mr Bush has made rare mention of Mr Trump, who exploited their party’s worst xenophobic impulses. And Mr Bush acknowledged his own views – “border enforcement with a