President Obama said he’s not going to “prejudge” what gets to his desk on immigration, but sounded optimistic that Democrats and Republicans in Congress could coalesce around some form of legislation dealing with the issue.
“I think the principle that we don’t want two classes of people in America is a principle that a lot of people agree with, not just me and not just Democrats. But I am encouraged by what Speaker Boehner has said,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with CNN. “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.”
House Republicans outlined a broad set of immigration principles at their annual retreat Thursday, ruling out a special pathway to citizenship but supporting legal status and work permits for most illegal immigrants.
“Here’s the good news…number one, there is a desire to get it done,” Mr. Obama said. “And that, particularly in this Congress, is a huge piece of business, because they haven’t gotten a lot done over the last couple years out of the House Republican caucus. They’ve been willing to say what they’re against, not so much what they’re for.
“The fact that they’re for something, I think is progress,” he said.
Mr. Obama said the number one fear of many families is deportation, which is why he has used “prosecutorial discretion” “to make sure that we’re not deporting kids who grew up here and are Americans for all practical purposes.”
“But we need to get that codified,” he said. “And 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.”
The document that circulated to House Republicans who are holding their annual policy retreat in Maryland calls for giving young illegal immigrants — known as Dreamers — a chance at citizenship.
Republican leaders also said they will insist on a “zero tolerance policy” for future illegal immigrants and will revamp the system to make it easier for businesses to hire foreign workers legally but tougher for immigrants to bring their extended families into the U.S.
A bill that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate last June could grant legal status and an eventual chance at citizenship to more than 8 million illegal immigrants, according to estimates by government accountants. That proposal also gave quick legal status regardless of whether border security was in place.
Republicans have promised to tackle the issue in separate bills, forgoing the Senate’s method of one massive bill that addresses border security, interior enforcement, illegal immigrants and reform of the entire system.