By Peter Cooney
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jeb Bush, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said on Sunday that illegal immigrants who come to the United States to provide for their families are not committing a felony but an "act of love."
In comments at odds with the views of many in his party, Bush, the son of the 41st president and brother of the 43rd, said of the divisive immigration issue: "I think we need to kind of get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place.
"I'm going to say this and it will be on tape and so be it," Bush said in an interview with Fox News host Shannon Bream in an event at the Texas presidential library of his father, George H.W. Bush.
"The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally ... and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony.
"It's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family.
Bush, 61, added: "I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."
Bush repeated at the event that he would decide on a presidential bid by the end of the year.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate in June 2013 but has stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Republican lawmakers have cited deep divisions in the party over the issue, including granting legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants.
A Republican Party review after the last presidential election had urged the party to embrace immigration reform to attract more Hispanic support. Democratic President Barack Obama, who was re-elected in 2012, won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to Republican challenger Mitt Romney's 27 percent.
Recent polls have suggested that if he were to run, Bush, a former Florida governor, would be weighed down by Americans' lingering attitudes toward his brother, George W. Bush, who left office in January 2009 as one of the least popular presidents in U.S. history.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll last month, nearly half the voters surveyed said they "definitely would not" vote for Jeb Bush in 2016 - a level of disapproval matched only by Romney. Even Bush's mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, has been lukewarm about the notion of another son running for president.
Asked by Bream about the critical considerations that would go into his decision on whether to run for the presidency, Bush said one was whether he could do it with a "hopeful, optimistic message" that avoids drawing him into a political "mudfight."
The other consideration, he said, "is it OK for my family?
Is it something that isn't a huge sacrifice for our family."
He added: "It turns out that not running has generated more interest than if I said I was running."
(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Jim Loney and Eric Walsh)