President Barack Obama said Tuesday that an immigration bill without a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is “not who we are as Americans,” arguing that the GOP-led House should move comprehensive immigration legislation rather than the step-by-step approach favored by most House Republicans.
Asked in an interview with a Telemundo-owned Denver TV station whether he could agree with a bill that does not contain a path to citizenship, Obama said that failing to address the issue of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the legislation “does not make sense.”
“It does not make sense to me if we're going to make this once-in-a-generation effort to finally fix the system to leave the status of 11 million people or so unresolved,” he said. “And certainly for us to have two classes of people in this country, full citizens and people who are permanently resigned to a lower status, I think that's not who we are as Americans. That's never been our tradition.”
The president’s interviews with four Spanish-language outlets come as Senate-passed immigration legislation remains stalled in the House.
The Senate-passed measure does contain a path to citizenship, but the House has declined to take up that legislation, with leaders instead pointing to a “step-by-step” approach focused on economic and security issues.
Obama warned against that strategy in a separate interview with a Telemundo-owned Dallas TV station, saying that a step-by-step approach may encourage lawmakers to “put off the hard stuff until the end.”
“If you've eaten your dessert before you've eaten your meal, at least with my children, sometimes they don't end up eating their vegetables,” he said. “So we need to, I think, do this as a complete package.”
The president also said some GOP members are “suspicious” of how their vote on the legislation could play politically in their home districts.
“I know it's tough,” he said. “I know the Republican House members are wrestling with it. Many of their constituents are suspicious of this. Suspicious of what immigration might mean for their political futures in some cases.”
Still, despite acknowledging that movement on the legislation is unlikely before the August recess, Obama said he believes it’s possible for the House to pass a bill if Republicans show “leadership” in bringing some type of legislation up for a vote – something House Speaker John Boehner has pledged not to do unless a proposal has the support of a majority of the GOP conference.
“If we can see some leadership from members of the Republican Party – some of whom I disagree with on a lot of issues – but who do seem to recognize this is the right thing to do for the country, eventually we'll get something passed out of the House,” he said.
And he said that he’s “hopeful” that legislation will make it across the finish line in the House this autumn.
“If in fact the House recognized that the smart thing, the right thing to do was to go ahead and send the Senate bill to the floor for a vote, I think it would pass tomorrow,” he said. “So it probably will – hopefully happen in the fall.”
NBC’s Shawna Thomas contributed to this report.