As the U.S. debates immigration policy, former President George W. Bush says it should “do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants.”

“Immigrants have helped build the country that we’ve become and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow,” Bush said Tuesday as he opened a conference on the benefits of immigration hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The conference comes as immigration reform is getting renewed attention following an election in which Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Democratic President Barack Obama. Bush has long been concerned about immigration and had warned the Republican Party as he left office in January 2009 not to become “anti-immigrant.”

“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Bush said Tuesday.

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