WASHINGTON (CBSMiami/AP) – Jeb Bush, Florida’s former Governor, told religious conservatives Friday that the future of American economy depends on immigrants.

Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, is among several Republican potential presidential candidates speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference in Washington.

At Friday’s conference, Bush said that immigrants are particularly important to help create more taxpayers to fund the safety net for the large, retiring baby boomer generation.

“Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans over the last 20 years,” he said, adding that immigrants also have more “intact families.”

“Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families,” he said.

As Congress debates changing the nation’s immigration laws, many conservatives are reluctant to support a new system that grants so-called “amnesty” to millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Before being granted legal status, Bush said, they should pay a fine, learn English and be blocked from receiving welfare benefits.

He said the nation must allow more immigrants “to pursue their dreams in our country with a vengeance to create more opportunities for all of us.”

“If we don’t do it, we will be in decline,” he told evangelical Christian activists.

“They bring a younger population,” Bush continued. “Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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