President Obama signaled flexibility on immigration legislation in an interview that aired Friday, saying he doesn’t want to “prejudge” legislation that doesn’t explicitly include a pathway to citizenship.
Asked by CNN whether he would veto a bill that included legal status but not citizenship for illegal immigrants, Obama said he was “not going to prejudge what gets to my desk.”
But the president said he did not favor reform that creates “two classes of people in America.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Republican leaders on Thursday outlined a set of principles that would provide legal status, but not a specific pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally.
The president was interviewed before those principles were released, and hinted that a deal with Republicans could be possible.
“If the Speaker proposes something that says right away, folks aren't being deported, families aren't being separated, we're able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here and then there's a regular process of citizenship, I'm not sure how wide the divide ends up being,” Obama said. “That's why I’d [not] want to prejudge it.”
Obama said he was “encouraged” that Republican leaders “seem to recognize our country will be stronger if we are able to resolve this issue.”
“I genuinely believe that Speaker Boehner and a number of House Republicans, folks like Paul Ryan, really do want to get a serious immigration reform bill done,” Obama said.
House Republican leadership on Thursday outlined a set of principles that would provide legal status, but not a specific pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally.
“These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits),” the document reads. “Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program.”
Obama also said he would consult with immigration rights organizations and advocates, as well as “ordinary folks,” to make sure he’d sign off on a bill that “makes sense.”
“The question is, 'Is there more that we can do in this legislation that gets both Democratic and Republican support, but solves these broader problems, including strengthening borders and making sure that we have a legal immigration system that works better than it currently does?' ” Obama said.
House Democrats have vowed that they won’t support an immigration bill that doesn’t include a pathway to citizenship for adults and children alike.
"To talk about legalization is to say that America is not the country we think we are," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier this week. “They wouldn't even be second-class citizens, because they wouldn't be citizens. They'd be second-class residents of our country."
On Thursday, Pelosi said the immigration-reform principles unveiled by the GOP "raise more questions than answers," though she said Democrats “welcome” the gesture.
"It is our hope that the presentation of these standards signals a sincere intent to move forward with immigration reform," Pelosi said in a statement.