President Obama said he believed he could work with House Republicans on immigration reform, sidestepping questions about whether he would veto a bill that provided legal status but not citizenship to illegal immigrants already in the country.
Obama's comments came as the House GOP unveiled a set of principles on immigration reform, a strong signal that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is ready to move on the contentious issue. House Republicans are considering their own immigration bills, which could offer legal status to illegal immigrants -- but not citizenship.
“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,” said Obama in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, aired on Friday.
The president said he didn’t want to “prejudge” any legislation that emerged from the GOP-controlled House.
A Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive reform stalled in the GOP-controlled House amid opposition from conservative lawmakers who said that its measures offering a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants already in the country amounted to “amnesty.”
Obama has called for a path to citizenship and included such provisions in his own immigration-reform proposal.
“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, uh, and not just Democrats,” said Obama.
“But I am encouraged by what Speaker Boehner has said,” he added. “I genuinely believe that Speaker Boehner and a number of House Republicans, folks like [Rep.] Paul Ryan [R-Wis.], really do want to get a serious immigration reform bill done.”
“The fact that they're for something, I think, is progress,” said the president.
Obama said that before signing any legislation he would consult with stakeholders, including immigration-reform groups and families that are affected.
“You've got to have a serious conversation around the country. I do know that for a lot of families the fear of deportation is one of the biggest concerns that they've got,” said Obama.
The president cited his own executive order blocking the deportation of some young illegal immigrants.
“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.”
Boehner has said the House will not take up the Senate bill but rather consider immigration reform “piecemeal.”
Obama has said he could accept that approach provided that the end product accepts his own immigration reform goals.