Former U.S. President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that immigrants were critical to both the U.S. labour market and the economy.

“America’s a nation of immigrants, immigrants have helped build the country that we’ve become. Not only do immigrants help build the economy, they invigorate our souls,” Mr. Bush said at a symposium in Dallas, Texas, giving a rare public policy speech after leaving office.

“As our nation debates the proper course of action related to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants,” Mr. Bush told the symposium hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas on immigration and economic growth.

“They come with new skills and new ideas,” he said. “They fill a critical gap in our labour market, they work hard for a chance for a better life.” Mr. Bush re-appealed to the Republican Party to embrace immigration reform as an issue, five years after he failed to push the broad reform bill that included ramped-up border security as well as pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants in the United States.

Some Republican leaders have spoken out in favour of reaching out to Hispanics, the fastest-growing group in the United States that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in November’s presidential election.

Latino-Americans voted for Mr. Obama over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent in the presidential race.

Polls showed many Hispanics found the way Mr. Romney addressed immigration as hostile and anti-Hispanic. Their view was taken as a key factor in their overwhelming support for Mr. Obama, according to media reports.

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