WASHINGTON, DC -- Republican John Kasich, losing his footing in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, pushed back against rivals calling for mass deportation, but said the country needs to "lock its doors," against illegal immigration.
Participating in a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) question and answer session Tuesday, the Ohio governor said mass deportation policies would cause "sheer panic" and that it's unacceptable in America to split up families.
"The idea we are going to pick these folks up and ship them out, that is just unbelievable. What are we going to do, ride to neighborhoods and announce, 'Come on out now, you're going to the border'? First of all it would send sheer panic to our families," he said.
Kasich advocated fortifying the border with a wall or other barriers including using drones or technology and compared doing so to people locking their doors at night.
"Don't you think a country needs to lock its doors? The reason you lock your doors is because you don't want people willy-nilly walking into your house," Kasich said. "A country that can't control its borders is a country that has a lot of chaos."
He dismissed the $6 billion that USHCC President Javier Palomarez said it would cost to build a wall on the border. "They leave that much on the floor upon Capitol Hill every night ... It is a lot of money but it isn't prohibitive."
On immigration, "sometimes you just have to lead," he said,
"People scream loud. OK, I hear you. Let me think about what you're saying, and if it makes sense I'll listen to you," he said. "It doesn't mean you don't listen but don't let the yelling and screaming determine your decision making."
Kasich said the border security needs to come with a guestworker program and a path to "legalization" for people not legally here. All of it has to be done "in a way that we address all the different elements."
"Once we have things in place, we don't want people to come over. If they come over, they have an excuse, they got to go back."
Kasich has been criticized for recent comments he made about hard-working Hispanics and "that's why, in a hotel, you leave a little tip." He said on Tuesday he was only appreciating the opportunity to slow down and enjoy a kind moment from his maid, and referenced another maid in New Hampshire, who was Russian, and "doing some unbelievable housekeeping chores.
"I said, 'You are just wonderful,'" he said.
Kasich went on to emphasize that he believes Hispanics "can do anything and everything in this society," and accused others of taking his words out of context to "drive divisions."
NBC News' Leigh Ann Caldwell and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.