President Obama criticized House Republicans’ piecemeal strategy for taking up immigration reform, telling his GOP rivals Tuesday that any bill that did not include a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants is “not who we are as Americans.”

House Republican leaders say they would prefer to vote on immigration reform on a step-by-step basis, splitting up provisions on border security, a pathway to citizenship and work visas, rather than move forward on the comprehensive bill recently passed by the Senate.

Obama, who has stayed on the sidelines during most of the immigration debate, is planning a more active role in talks heading forward — and he urged Republicans not to divide any immigration blueprint.

“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,” Obama told a Dallas-based Telemundo reporter during a series of interviews at the White House Tuesday. “So we need to, I think, do this as a complete package.”

Republicans have been receptive to immigration fixes that would enhance border security but remain wary of a pathway to citizenship for those in the United States illegally, which critics dismiss as amnesty.

But the president threw cold water on any plan lacking a citizenship benchmark.

“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,” Obama said in another interview with a Denver Telemundo television station. “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.”

Obama conducted four interviews with Spanish-language media on Tuesday, hoping to put pressure on Republicans still weighing immigration reform. Still, the president acknowledged that the politics of immigration reform remain tough for many Republicans in their home districts, saying that GOP leaders are apprehensive about fallout from bucking their party’s base.

Though the White House set no preconditions for the interviews, the Spanish reporters focused almost exclusively on immigration. The president wasn’t even asked about the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin trial in Florida.

The White House is clearly trying to change the perception in Washington that it has been a bystander in the broader immigration debate.

“The idea that we’re staying out of it is a fallacy, and has been forever,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “We wouldn’t be where we are if the president hadn’t been re-elected and made comprehensive immigration reform one of his top priorities. We wouldn’t be where we are with a bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support if it hadn’t been for the role the president played.”