MIAMI (AP) — With a single phrase of compassion for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, Jeb Bush has prompted questions about his viability as a potential presidential contender and underscored how divisive the immigration issue remains for the Republican Party.

The former Florida governor sparked a conservative furor this week when he described illegal immigration as an "act of love" by people trying to provide for their families.

Backing Bush are some of the GOP's most powerful insiders and financiers, who are hoping the party can woo Hispanic voters and rebound from Mitt Romney's damaging "self-deportation" rhetoric in 2012.

Other GOP lawmakers and conservative activists, however, are cringing at Bush's remarks.

Some in the Republican establishment are concerned immigration could define the coming nominating contest in the way it did the last one.