In a potential breakthrough on an immigration overhaul, President Obama hinted that he would be open to a reform bill even if it lacked a special pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people here illegally.
The comments broadcast Friday in a CNN interview raised hopes for bipartisan legislation on the matter. Previously Obama and other Democrats had said that any reform measure should include a provision to make it easier for immigrants in the U.S. illegally to obtain citizenship.
The president’s comments follow a GOP proposal released Thursday that would give immigrants legal status but no special citizenship process, except in the cases of children brought here illegally by their parents.
Obama said in the TV interview that he would still prefer a special citizenship path, but signaled he was open to other approaches.
“If [House Speaker John A. Boehner] 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.
Other leading Democrats have similarly signaled in recent days that the differences with Republicans on immigration could be bridged in order to win passage of legislation later this year.
Obama stopped short of saying he would veto any bill without special path to citizenship.
“Well, you know, I'm not going to prejudge what gets to my desk,” Obama said, adding that he doesn’t want to see “two classes” of people in America.
Immigration advocates said the president's comments might open the door for a compromise.
“I don’t think [Obama] is throwing citizenship under the bus,” said Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to the White House. “I think he is trying to open the conversation by saying there are lots of ways to get to the finish line.”