“There are still some differences, and obviously, the devil is in the details. But it is my firm belief that we can get immigration reform done this year,” said Obama in a Google+ Hangout in which he took questions from the public.
“Obviously, if at some point we see that it's not getting done, I'm going to look at options to make sure that we have a rational, smart system of immigration,” the president added. “But I'm going to do everything I can in these coming months to see if we can get this over the finish line. And I think we actually can get it done.”
Immigration-reform proponents, though, have pressed Obama to use his executive powers to halt all deportations of illegal immigrants.
The president has said that he does not have the authority to do that and that such an action would not solve many of the issues plaguing the nation’s immigration system. But Obama has also signed orders blocking the deportation of some young illegal immigrants.
Obama’s comments came a day after House Republicans unveiled their guiding principles for tackling immigration reform, raising expectations in Washington after legislation stalled in 2013.
“We saw a bipartisan bill pass through the Senate last year. And Speaker Boehner announced a couple of -- actually yesterday -- that he has principles for immigration reform that are moving in the direction of the principles that I had laid out from the time that I first ran for this office,” said Obama.
A bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate last year included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country — a key element of Obama’s own immigration proposal.
Reports, though, suggest that House Republicans may propose legalizing the status of illegal immigrants but fall short of providing them with citizenship.
Asked if he could accept that compromise, Obama in an earlier interview said that he did not want to “prejudge” any legislation that comes out of the House.
But in the Google+ hangout session, he said that “at the end of the day, people are able to become citizens.”
“We don't want a situation in which we've got two categories of people in this country, folks who are full-fledged citizens and folks who are not,” said the president.
“The point I made yesterday is that I want to engage. I don't want to prejudge and presuppose that we can't close some of those gaps,” he added.