Biden: Illegal immigrants are 'already Americans'

The nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States are already citizens, as far as Vice President Biden is concerned.

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"You know, 11 million people live in the shadows. I believe they're already American citizens," Biden said Thursday at a Washington gathering of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans, in my view."

The sentiment might come as a surprise to liberal Democrats and immigrant rights advocates who have hammered the Obama administration's deportation policies as far too aggressive and damaging to families.

Critics have pushed the administration to expand its 19-month-old deferred action program, which allows illegal immigrants brought to the country as kids to remain and work, so that it includes a broader swath of the illegal immigrant population. President Obama has resisted that move thus far.

The deportation issue is a tough one for the president, who at once wants to appear strong on enforcement to counter GOP critics; scale back deportations to energize Hispanic voters who came out for him overwhelmingly in 2008 and 2012; and keep pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders to bring immigration reform legislation to the floor.

House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a discharge petition designed to force a vote on a reform bill. They acknowledged the petition likely wouldn't attract the 218 signatures needed but said the point was increasing the pressure on the Republicans to act.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she's ready to sacrifice certain provisions the Democrats want to see in an immigration bill, but vowed to oppose any legislation that explicitly blocks illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens.

"I want this bill desperately. I'm willing to make almost every compromise possible, but we cannot compromise on a pathway to citizenship," she told the members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It cannot have a provision that prevents it from happening."

Biden said passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation would be a boon to the economy, an argument the administration has made repeatedly.

"If we want a game changer, the single most important thing we can do for our economy and for America's future is pass immigration reform now," Biden said. "I've heard for too damn long how this was going to bankrupt us, and Social Security was going to take a nose-dive, and so on. … Well guess what? It's a game changer financially for the country."

Biden rattled off a list of figures from the Congressional Budget Office about the estimated effects of comprehensive immigration reform on the nation's economy, including predictions it would extend the solvency of Social Security.

"So much for the horror stories," Biden said.

Biden also decried a system where immigrant students receive advanced degrees and then have to leave the country before they can use them.

"We should be stapling a green card to each one of those degrees as they walk across the stage," he said.

"Let this go," Biden said, addressing Boehner. "Let people vote."