Former president George W. Bush gave his first speech dealing with a major political issue since leaving office on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to "uphold our tradition of assimilating immigrants and honoring our heritage of our nation built on the rule of law" while offering little in the way of policy specifics.  Bush had seen his own hopes for major immigration reform legislation disappointed during his second term when a 2007 bill was shot down by the Senate. That bill would have offered a path to citizenship for many of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in addition to establishing a new temporary worker program and appropriating an extra $4.4 billion to enforcement measures and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I don't intend to get involved in the politics or the specifics of policy, but I do hope there's a positive resolution to the debate," Bush said at a US citizen naturalization ceremony held at his new presidential center in Dallas, according to the Associated Press. "And I hope, during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country.

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"We're also a nation of laws. And we must enforce our laws. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time," he added.

But Bush stopped short of advocating for a path to citizenship for the undocumented -- a point which is proving to be the key wedge between Democratic and Republican members of the House. The Senate bill offers it; none of the four single-issue bills which House Republicans have drawn up does. Democrats in both chambers say that any comprehensive immigration reform bill which doesn't make the offer won't get their support. CBS reports that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a leading anti-illegal-immigration voice, said that lawmakers have "no moral obligation to do that. [Undocumented immigrants] came here to live in the shadows, they had to expect they were going to live in the shadows."

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House Republicans were scheduled to meet with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday night to plan an approach on the issue of immigration reform. 

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In 2007, Bush's own attempts at immigration reform were foiled in large part due to opposition on the part of his own party's senators as well as conservative grassroots efforts.  But this time around, support for reform is significantly more widespread in the Senate.  The Senate's bipartisan bill would make about 8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States eligible to apply for provisional legal status six months after the bill passes and put them on a 13-year path to citizenship.

The Associated Press reported that the naturalization ceremony at which Bush spoke was followed by a panel on how immigrants help Texas' economy.